Amar'e Stoudemire's statements this week about a potential players-run league if the NBA lockout cannot be resolved is a back-burner headline for all but the most die-hard NBA fans. It goes in the pile with the summer's Chinese barnstorming plan or Kobe Bryant's one-game contract with an Italian team as hair-brained ideas that might sound nice, but could never work out over the long term.
The idea of a players-run basketball league is not as far-fetched as it might seem. To make money, a basketball game really only needs four ingredients: a venue, a ball, enough players to fill two teams and enough fans willing to pay to see it. The And-1 Mixtape tour and other player-organized events during the lockout proved this.
Basketball is unique in its position. Alone among professional leagues, it doesn't need a corporate structure or even games to be profitable. It is fueled by its stars, and without its stars, it's the NBDL.
That's why, given the choice between a great organization and a great superstar, the NBA is the only one of the four major sports where you'd have to take the superstar 100 percent of the time. The Patriots' ownership, front office, coaches and scouting staff are, on balance, more valuable than Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Vince Wilfork put together. If the Heat were to lose LeBron James, though, they couldn't just fill his spot with a Matt Cassel and keep on rolling.
If the NBA Players Association were to get serious about setting out on its own — and right now it only appears to be in the speculative stage — it should worry the league.
Unlike in baseball, there's no minor league organization that needs to be built; it's 12 guys in shorts and sneakers. Unlike the NFL, there's no 12-member coaching staff to put in place, just one coach in a cheap suit. Unlike in hockey, there's no shortage of valuable ice time to reserve at the local rink. (Puck drops at 4 a.m.!)
Oh, it wouldn't generate millions of dollars in revenue, not at first. The initial season would probably be played at half-empty locations like Matthews Arena and feel like the NBA summer league games that used to be played at UMass-Boston. The number of teams would be restricted to where there was interest, which probably means five teams in New York City (one for each borough), a handful in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Indiana and none in Minnesota. (Maybe even one in Seattle for basketball-deprived Sonics fans.)
But it wouldn't take long to change that. This is a sport in which shady coaches make millions from collecting teams of 10-year-old "all-stars" and organizing "camps" to showcase their talents. If an unemployed dude in a polo shirt can get rich selling tickets to watch preteens dribble and clank 3-pointers, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade can make a decent living showcasing their own talents.
The superstars might never again receive $100 million contracts, but the shoe and sports drink endorsement money would take care of the difference, at least for the stars. And as chummy as hoops stars are, you can be sure there would be superteams that would make last season's Heat look like the Duxbury High JV team.
The competition would be inconsistent, the dispersal of wealth among players would be uneven, and the product on the court might not be as crisp, but there are enough basketball fans out there that it eventually could work.
Within a decade, the Boston North Enders, owned and operated by Pierce, Allen, Garnett and Associates, could be playing home games in the TD Garden.
That's capitalism. It wouldn't be ideal for anybody, but if both sides in the current labor dispute are to be believed, the current business model isn't ideal, either. It may be worth a shot.