Friday, December 30, 2011

NBA Armageddon 2011/Stern warnings – the NBA in 2011

David Stern has been a part of the National Basketball Association since 1966, serving as the league’s commissioner since 1984. Basketball has enjoyed unparalleled growth under Stern. The globalization of basketball will be David Stern lasting legacy.

However when basketball pundits look back at 2011, it won’t be one of Stern’s best years. It may have actually been his worst year as NBA commissioner.

The NBA lockout began at midnight on June 30 and received little attention due to the NFL’s lockout. Ownership hammered home their position that the previous collective bargaining agreement, which gave the players 57% of basketball generated revenues, wasn’t working anymore. Initially management wanted the players to accept 43% of basketball-generated revenues.

The NBA Players Association (NBPA), led by Executive Director Billy Hunter and President Derek Fisher, agreed to give back between 4 and 5 percent of basketball-generated revenue.

Not a great deal happened in July. Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul talked about heading to China to play basketball this year, Nets guard Deron Williams signed a contract with Turkey's Besiktas which included an opt-out clause allowing Williams to return to the NBA once the lockout ended.

On August 1 the NBA filed unfair labor charges against the players union.

"For the parties to reach agreement on a new CBA, the union must commit to the collective bargaining process fully and in good faith," said NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer Adam Silver.

Hunter responded: "We urge the NBA to engage with us at the bargaining table and to use more productively the short time we have left before the 2011-12 season is seriously jeopardized."

Not a great deal took place in August.

September rolled around and the two sides starting getting together on a more regular basis. The lockout took an interesting twist in terms of how the two sides communicated their message to basketball fans and to a lesser extent the media.

Ownership let David Stern do their talking while Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher had to contend with social media, in particular, Twitter. On September 7 Knicks guard Roger Mason Jr., a member of the players' executive committee, wrote "Looking like a season. How u" on his Twitter page. He later deleted the tweet, stating his account was hacked.

On the heels of Mason Jr.'s tweet, reports that Fisher text-messaged numerous players a week earlier, saying that progress had been made and implored them to be physically prepared in case the season starts on time.

The next day, Fisher refutes the report of his text message to players in an story.

Both the NFL and the NFLPA created their own websites during the NFL lockout. The NBA did have a labor related site the NBPA chose to not dedicate any real efforts towards effective communication throughout the lockout.

David Stern and NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Stern continued delivering the owners’ message. The players were going to have to accept significant changes.

On September 22, during an appearance at the University of Connecticut, Celtics guard Ray Allen says he is willing to sacrifice a whole season if necessary due to the NBA lockout.

"Nobody wants to miss a year," Allen said. "But I'm prepared to do what the team needs me to do, what my players association, players union team, what they need me to do, because we want to make sure we get the right deal for us."

The two sides meet several times in early October, with little if any, progress. They agree to bring Federal Mediator George Cohen into the talks.

Talks collapse just before Halloween. Stern announces all games are canceled through November 30.

"We held out that joint hope together, but in light of the breakdown of talks, there will not be a full NBA season under any circumstances," Stern said.

The 1998-99 season began on February 5, 1999 and featured each team playing 50 games. The two sides didn’t reach a settlement until January 6, 1999. There was still plenty of time left to save the NBA season.

By November 9, the union and NBA had met 22 times for over 148 hours trying to come to a new collective bargaining agreement.

On November 14 ‘the talks blew up’. The NBPA rejected a “take it or leave it” offer from the owners that would have seen the basketball related income (BRI) split move from 57/43 in favor of the players to 50/50.

The NBPA walked away, paving the way for a lawsuit that throws the season in jeopardy.

By filing a disclaimer of interest, the union ended its role as a collective-bargaining agent and NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter became the executive director of a "trade association".

Outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and attorney David Boies who, ironically, represented NFL owners when they thwarted the football players' decertification push last spring become the key figures for the players' side, taking over for Hunter and Derek Fisher.

David Stern offered what became one of 2011’s great sports business quotes that day: "We're about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA."

Nine days later “secret talks” began and continued through the Thanksgiving Weekend holiday. The two sides announce a new collective bargaining agreement in the early morning hours of November 26.

The agreement included a 50-50 split of basketball-related income, a higher luxury tax with progressive tax rates and the retention of a soft salary cap system. The maximum length of player contracts lowered from six years to five and maximum annual increases in salaries will be 7.5% for teams re-signing their own players and 4.5% for teams signing free agents.

The NBA season began on Christmas Day with five games, all televised by ABC, ESPN and TNT. The ratings were record setting for Christmas Day. It remains to be seen if there will be any long-term fallout from the lockout.

While football fans were never going to be angry with the NFL, basketball fans seemingly didn’t care if the NBA played a game.

Baseball fans remained bitter after the 1994 World Series was lost to a labor dispute.

The NHL has the smallest fan base of the four major sports. Hockey fans were so happy when the NHL returned for the 2005-06 season they embraced the game as if the NHL had never missed a game.

Basketball fans almost seemed apathetic towards the NBA. If the NBA lost their entire 2011-12 season fans wouldn’t have cared. No anger, no longing for the game. All the good David Stern had done in the 25+-years he had served as NBA commissioner seemed to be falling apart.

The NBA will play a truncated 66 game schedule. An NBA champion will be crowned but the NBA had better pay attention to the laissez-faire attitude fans have towards the product being played on NBA basketball courts.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Blooom

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