NBA Lockout Battle Mirrors Deficit Debate in Washington


September 19, 2011

NBA Lockout Battle Mirrors Deficit Debate in Washington It's the season of contention.

Blame it on the recession. Blame it on two wars or the debt crisis in Europe. Heck, blame it on the media and its 24/7 cycle of sensationalism.

Whatever it is, we Americans can't seem to agree on much.

Just this Monday morning, President Barack Obama laid out his ambitious plan to reduce the deficit. He and the Democrats want a tax increase on America's millionaires.

Republican leaders are already calling it "class warfare."

Just 230 miles up Interstate-95, you'll find the NBA owners and players' reps butting heads just as furiously.

It's hard not to draw comparisons.

NBA commissioner David Stern (if he's willing to pancake himself in orange makeup) is Republican house speaker John Boehner — fighting for business owners and the wealthy.

Players Association executive director Billy Hunter is Obama — battling for giveback from the wealthy (owners) and more revenues for the middle class (players).

The language is divisive, and the results of both catfights have been equally abysmal. Obama's approval ratings are the worst of his presidency. Congressional Republicans? Just 19 percent of the country approves of the job they're doing — the lowest ever, with most respondents pointing to partisanship and bickering as their reasons for disapproval.

My sense is, if you polled those same folks on their approval of NBA management and players, the numbers would be equally telling.

Funny thing is, it's political poison for all. Obama and Republican legislators are hemorrhaging likely voters in 2012, as fans of the NBA become increasingly disillusioned with a sport that had risen to wild popularity in recent years.

The cure? Sensible compromise, in which both sides give ground.

I'll let The Washington Post and The New York Times deal with how to accomplish that on the deficit front, but for NBA players and owners, it shouldn't take much more than this.

1. Keep the current soft-cap system with exceptions, but institute a fairly high ceiling that can't be broken under any circumstances. That protects owners from overspending, while giving players a shot at those six-year, eight-figure deals. Besides, the NBA could use some parity — it's part of what makes the NFL so entertaining — and the only way to get there is through some form of hard cap. Keep it high, by all means, but both the NBA and MLB would benefit greatly from it.

2. Basketball-Related Income (BRI) is the number used to determine the soft cap and the hard cap proposed above. Allow the owners to take $75 million off that figure right away to cover benefits. Given their claim that the league lost $300 million last year with 22 of 30 teams in the red, this only seems fair.

3. Guarantee the players 54 percent of all BRI. Given they got 57 percent in the last contract and would be giving some ground on the above two points, I'd say the owners should take it and run.

Sure, there are lots of details to sort out within those parameters (What percent of BRI should be used to determine the hard cap? How many years is the deal? Will the luxury tax be abolished? How much of players' salaries will be held in escrow?). But the biggest step toward a deal is finding common ground on the most contentious items.

Otherwise, we might not have a season at all. And nobody wins in that scenario.

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