Thursday, October 20, 2011

NBA Lockout: Why the NBPA Strategy Can Bring Basketball Back

The NBA's marathon collective bargaining sessions with the National Basketball Players Association and a federal mediator this week were just posturing to save themselves from ultimately being defeated by the NBPA's lockout strategy.

NBPA Lockout Strategy
The NBPA strategy in the NBA Lockout is pretty straightforward:
  • File a case against the NBA with the National Labor Relations Board and
  • Stand firm on their positions in collective bargaining.

The NBPA appears to hope for one of the following two results:
  • The NBA meets them on the common ground of their positions (e.g. 53% of basketball-related income, soft cap, etc.) or 
  • The NLRB files an unfair labor practices complaint and a US District Court judge issues an injunction against the NBA to end the lockout.

That’s essentially what the MLBPA did from 1994-95 when they went on strike during the season.

The NLRB filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Major League Baseball, future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a preliminary junction to end the lockout and MLB lost their appeal to stay her ruling. MLB players ended their strike and the 1995 season began under the terms of the expired collective bargaining agreement.

Billy Hunter, NBPA president Derek Fisher and the Executive Committee chose a strategy that worked in the past. The NBA knows this and put on a nice show this week to dissuade the NLRB from concluding they were negotiating in bad faith.

So why does it seem like every reporter thinks the players don’t have any leverage in these negotiations and they will result in the owners getting what they want?

Reporters Don’t Know What Time It Is
Ethan Skolnick, Heat reporter for the Palm Beach Post, is one of those reporters that thinks the players will lose their negotiations with the owners. He supported this opinion by posting the comments of former players that also think the NBPA will give in to the owners.

That’s the problem.

Former players like Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman and Reggie Miller also said they wouldn’t have used their free agency to play with other great players in their prime. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony have shown that today’s players don’t think that way.

This generation of NBA players believes in taking control of their careers instead of just going along with the NBA’s whims. Today’s NBPA has its own vision for the game and doesn’t need to blindly believe in the NBA’s views.

If the Dead Basketball Poets Society thinks this NBPA will cave like previous versions, then they’re in for the same surprise the machines got from the sixth version of Zion in Matrix: Reloaded.

Differences Between NBPA and MLBPA
Sports economist David Berri thinks the NBPA will get the short end of negotiations with the owners because there are differences between their union and the baseball players’ union. He discussed these differences on a recent podcast.

Berri offered two main differences between the NBPA and MLBPA that could impact the players’ strategy for the NBA lockout:
  • the average MLB player’s career is longer than the average NBA players, so they can afford to miss games and 
  • NBPA doesn’t have a history of successfully exploiting divisions between the owners. 

The average baseball career lasts 5.6 years, according to a study of players from 1902-1993 that was published in 2007. The average NBA career lasts 4.8 years according to a study of career stats from 1988-2002.

Is one extra season enough justification for one group of players to feel more comfortable missing games than the other? That notion doesn’t seem to pass the laugh test.

As for exploiting divisions between the owners, Billy Hunter spoke to that exact point during a press conference after Friday’s NBPA regional meeting in Los Angeles.

The NBPA’s strategy shows they’re clearly trying to be like the MLBPA. There may have been differences between them in the past, but that gap is closing rapidly.

The biggest difference left between basketball players and baseball players in collective bargaining is the racial make-up of their unions.

That’s a discussion for another day. Stay tuned to the HEATcast for more.

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