Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NBA Lockout: Lessons From the History of NBA Labor, Part 2

The History of NBA Labor teaches two important lessons about the modern NBA schedule.

Thank the NBPA For All-Star Weekend
Many pundits say the NBA has the best all-star festivities of the three major sports in America but no one thanks the National Basketball Players Association for making it possible.

Under Oscar Robertson’s leadership, the NBPA called the NBA’s bluff to cancel the 1967 playoffs and got a list of their demands met. One of those demands was, “elimination of games played immediately before the All-Star Game”.

Games played before All-Star Sunday would have eliminated the rookie game, slam dunk contest and three-point shootout if it weren’t for collective action by the NBPA.

Here’s how the whole scenario played out:
“Tensions between the union and owners escalated until the owners announced in March that the playoff would be canceled unless the players gave assurances that they would "comply with their contracts" and participate in the playoffs as scheduled. The union then responded by threatening to file for certification with the National Labor Relations Board and to strike the playoffs in an effort to upgrade their pension plan. The dispute was settled soon after...”
On the September 23rd HEATcast, Harvard political scientist Matthew Platt said the players should have gone on strike last season before the owners could lock them out to gain leverage in collective bargaining.

The difference between then and now is that the NBPA isn’t fighting for significant improvements to working conditions like they were in 1967 so there was no need to strike. A strike to maintain the status quo doesn’t rally the troops like a strike for an improved pension plan.

If the NBPA didn't threaten to strike in 1967, then James Jones may not have gotten the opportunity to win last year's three-point shootout.

NBPA Limited the Schedule to 82 Games
Another item included in the NBPA’s 1967 agreement with the NBA was “an 82-game limitation on the regular season”.

While fans, pundits and players today complain about the season being too long, imagine if it was even longer?

In 1967, the NBA expanded the schedule from 80 games to 81. Would the NBA have expanded the schedule beyond 82 games if it weren’t for collective bargaining with the NBPA limiting the schedule?

In 2009, NBA commissioner David Stern made the following comment to USA Today about the length of the season, “...if you say June is too late for basketball, I can tell you this: Those cities in the Finals would happily play into August.”

The NBA has continually extended the post-season since the NBPA collectively bargained a limit on the regular season. First round series were extended from three to five games in 1984 and extended to seven games in 2003.

In the NBA’s bid to get more money from the players in collective bargaining during the lockout, it’s a surprise stories have not leaked about the NBA trying to extend the season like the NFL did during its lockout.

Ninety-game regular season? Best-of-nine playoff series? No request from the NBA should be surprising during collective bargaining.

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