Thursday, July 28, 2011

Is the NBA intent on following the NHL's model?

By John McMullen

PHILADELPHIA - The glass-is-half-full crowd who thinks the NBA lockout will follow the NFL's lead may be off base, at least according to NBPA executive director Billy Hunter.

In the end, the NFL's lockout amounted to the teachers going on strike in the summer. Sure, hardcore fans may have missed their daily dose of football news but casual onlookers could have cared less and when things kick off for real in September, few will remember that the players and owners were acting like petulant children for over 140 days.

As the NBA and its Players' Association get ready for their first collective bargaining talks since their lockout began, set for August 1, both sides remain worlds apart.

The owners' talking points center on a "broken system" that needs to rein in spending and allow the so-called lesser franchises a better opportunity to compete both on the court and in the financial ledgers.

The players, on the other hand, like the previous CBA and point to the league's burgeoning revenues as proof it works, claiming a tweak or two on the revenue sharing side would cure all the league's woes.

Hunter is preparing his constituents for Armageddon, feeling commissioner David Stern and the owners are intent on following the 2004-05 NHL model -- shut down the sport for a year, watch the players break and get everything they want.

"They are trying to do the same thing here that they did in the case of the NHL and they're following the same blueprint," Hunter told Jonathan Abrams of "I know it, and I preached it time and again to our players from the inception.

"I've said the same thing: They're not negotiating in good faith; they have no desire or intentions of getting a deal without a lockout because if they think they can threaten us or lock us out for a year or whatever, that the players will cave and they'll get everything they want."

The NHL lockout, of course, was the first time a major professional sports league in North America canceled a complete season because of a labor dispute and the first time Stanley Cup wasn't awarded since 1919. It lasted 310 days and dropped the guarantee players got from over 70 percent of the league's total revenues, a ludicrous figure compared to other major sports, to 54 percent.

Things in the NBA are quite different, however. First of all, the players and owners are fighting over billions, not hundreds of millions. In fact, the amount of revenue the league generates is staggering.

On July 22, the NBA and NBPA completed the 2010-11 NBA season audit of Basketball Related Income (BRI) and player compensation. The results showed that BRI increased by 4.8 percent from $3.643 billion in 2009-10 to $3.817 billion in 2010- 11. Meanwhile, total player compensation also increased by 4.8 percent from $2.076 billion to $2.176 billion.

It marked the sixth consecutive season that player compensation increased under the expired CBA and total player compensation equaled 57 percent of BRI, a far cry from the 70-plus percent in the pre-lockout NHL.

That said, in a very shaky world economy, the average player salary in the NBA last season was $5.15 million and over the six-year term of the expired CBA, the average player salary increased by a healthy 16 percent.

It's clear that the players have to give something back, the question is how much?

The key number is that 57 percent of BRI. Hunter's latest offer sought a reduction in the revenue split down to 54.7 percent, a $100 million "give back" in order to keep the previous system in place. The owners, meanwhile, have blustered about 40 percent and a harder more restrictive salary cap system.

That's farther apart than the Israelis and Palestinians.

Compromise is the answer with a 50-50 split seen as the eventual end game.

Like any politically fueled conflict, how quickly the NBA and its players get there has more to do with ideology and testosterone than rational, lucid thinking.

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