The hardline stance of LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade and others may work for them, the prevailing logic goes, because they have plenty of money either saved up or coming in through endorsements to endure a shortened or canceled season. The role players and minimum-contract guys, by comparison, are more likely to be hurt by a prolonged labor stoppage.
“The thing that they’re fighting for right now is not the middle-of-the-road guy, and that’s who you would think the union would be fighting for,” an unnamed executive told CBS Sports’ Ken Berger. “They’re fighting for the max guys right now or the max-to-be guys.”
Comments like this seem to be tilting the opinion among many NBA writers that the players need to give in for their own good. The sooner the NBA Players Association caves and accepts a smaller share of league revenue, a harder salary cap, a stricter luxury tax and non-guaranteed contracts, those writers reason, the sooner the relatively middle-class players can get back to earning their much-needed paychecks.
In the short term, this may be true. But in the long term, such a move would hurt middle-tier players far more than it would help them. I’m no expert in labor relations, but I can do math.
The star players in any sport will get paid handsomely under any system. If the players union agrees to decrease its share of league revenue from 57 percent to 47 percent, as the owners are demanding, each player would likely have to give back more of his salary at the end of every season than he currently does. For highly paid stars, this loss would be negligible considering their outsize salaries and non-salary income. But the player operating on a minimum contract will feel a bigger hit because his salary is likely his sole income. Chopping off thousands from a $18 million contract is a lot less noticeable than chopping thousands off a $200,000 contract.
Run of the mill players would similarly be hurt, not helped, in a non-guaranteed contract system. At present, Mike Bibby can dribble off his feet, play matador defense and clank 3-pointers all he wants and still stink his way to a few million dollars in salary. Eliminate guaranteed contracts and the Heat could cut him loose at any time. OK, so maybe that’s not a bad thing. But union president Derek Fisher isn’t there to decide what’s right and wrong; his job is to negotiate in the best interests of his fellow union members.
Non-guaranteed contracts would have a negative impact on stars as well, but not nearly as much. Steve Nash could be cut one day and still be able to find a small-market team that will sign him to a fairly lucratice deal to sell tickets; Leandro Barbosa probably wouldn’t.
Again, this isn’t a judgment of which side is right. The owners are clearly more organized and are doing a much better job of communicating their stance.
It would help, though, if we took a step back and understood that just because someone says something doesn’t make it so. It’s more complicated than the players asserting owners are poor businessmen and the owners claiming the players aren’t sticking up for each other. This is a business story, but unfortunately in many cases these labor talks are being covered like the run-up to the Super Bowl, when the back-and-forth between the teams dominates the headlines.
It’s funny that Javale McGee showed up for 15 minutes and then decided he was an expert on the process. It’s amusing to picture Garnett glowering over the table at David Stern. But humorous stories shouldn’t overshadow the numbers.