Friday, July 16, 2010

Warriors sale could mean tough sell for NBA

By John McMullen
Philadelphia, PA - There is an adage in politics - never let a serious crisis go to waste.
In these tough economic times, rank and file workers across America have never been more suspicious of management.

Most agree that the world's largest economy is not running on all cylinders right now and some even argue that it's come off the tracks completely, but most middle class employees can't help but get the feeling that management is using a bad situation to take advantage of them by scaling back on benefits and salary.

That kind of suspicion is about the only thing NBA players have in common with the middle class.
Since the league instituted a salary cap in 1984, it has grown from $3.6 million per team to a staggering a $57.7 million last season. In turn, player salaries have exploded, climbing from an average of $330,000 in '84 to $5.2 million by 2007-08. The numbers have stagnated a bit since then, but the average NBA salary has stayed above the $5 million mark.

That growth had the NBA crying poverty at every turn when the economy went south. Before the 2008-09 season, commissioner David Stern slashed 9 percent of his office staff in New York and played hardball with his officials, gaining significant reductions in the referees' retirement packages after threatening a lockout.

During the NBA's annual owners meeting in Las Vegas, buried among all the hoopla over the "Summer of LeBron," Stern claimed his league lost a combined $370 million thanks to the recession, a figure NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter balked at.

With the current collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players set to end on June 30, 2011, Hunter thinks Stern is using fuzzy math in an attempt to control salaries and make other changes to the CBA.

"David's numbers are unfounded," Hunter told ESPN. "It's a severe exaggeration."

Stern cited slowing ticket sales in some markets and a hit in both television and merchandising revenue to back his claim, while Hunter pointed to the league's overall increase in ticket sales and a much-increased television audience for the NBA playoffs to bolster his case.

Recent empirical evidence supports Hunter and the players.

A doom-and-gloom prediction by the NBA that predicted the salary cap would decrease from $57.7 million to $50.4 million in 2010 was way off and the league announced that the cap would actually increase next season to $58 million, a development that actually upset a number of the league's owners, who were taken by surprise.

"As soon as we get it, we spend it," Stern said of the league's still solid revenue streams. "That is the current system. We try to compete. Our fans love that. So we'd like to keep the league as competitive as possible, give all of our teams the opportunity to tell their fans they have a chance to win, and have some profit in it for the owners."

Those same owners are continuing to spend at a breakneck pace despite the sour economy and Stern's moribund words, giving even pedestrian players like Chris Duhon and Hakim Warrick big paydays.
Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors, not exactly the gold standard in the league, are set to sell for a record price. The Warriors. who were a disappointing 26-56 last season, are a lot closer to the Los Angeles Clippers than the Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics, but that didn't stop an investment group led by Joseph Lacob to pony up a record price $450 million for the franchise, exceeding the $401 million Robert Sarver needed to buy the Phoenix Suns in 2004.

Both sides are distrustful of each other and are hunkering down and preparing for the worst work stoppage since the 1998-99 lockout.

"I'm preparing for a lockout right now, and I haven't seen anything to change that notion," Hunter said.

Don't expect Stern, a master negotiator, to blink and let this crisis go to waste.

"I don't know how many collective bargainings I've participated in over the last too many years," the commissioner said. "We've thus far only had one failure to reach a deal in 1998. And many of the others have started out poorly, had predictions of doom and gloom, et cetera. You just keep on plugging. I think we've got a long way to go, but we have a lot of time to get there. That's the optimism

"Judging from (the players') proposal, which basically embraces the current system, we haven't closed any gap yet. But we're going to be resilient and prepared to spend the time necessary to see whether there's a deal to be had here, and we're going to do it for as long as possible."

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