Two years ago this month, the NBA was careening toward a lockout that affected the regular season. NBA fans had to familiarize themselves with scores of legal terms and listen to talking point after talking point from David Stern and Billy Hunter. It was a parade of puffed chests and menacing threats. In the end, basketball before Christmas Day was lost.
But the players lost a lot more. Most importantly, in the final deal, the players lost a huge chunk of revenue they had previously claimed. In the old deal, the players were guaranteed 57 percent of league revenues. In the new deal, the players get 50 percent of revenue, plus or minus a percent based on revenue growth. That's a huge shift: about $280 million per year and rising.
In addition to that, maximum contract lengths were shortened, the amount of salary that goes into escrow grew, the mid-level exception shrunk and, other than a revenue sharing upgrade, there were very few "wins" for the players. We're not hearing owner complaints about the 2011 deal. We also just saw the Sacramento Kings sold for $535 million. The owners don't seem to have much to complain about. Was the 2011 deal the fix owners needed?
Even if that's so, don't hold your breath that 2017 will come and go without labor drama ... because there are two sides to the equation. Players could opt out of the collective bargaining agreement on June 30, 2017. It's unclear if that would set up a potential player strike heading into 2017-18 or whether the two sides would hold meaningful negotiations (ha!) while committing to no work stoppage. (Needless to say, a player strike would be catastrophic for the public's perception of players, and I hardly think Chris Paul, the new union president, wants to be the face of that.)
But to a large extent, the players' concessions in 2011 are items that can't be put back in the box. There's no way owners are going to reverse their gains on the revenue split, which is the big ticket item. Where could players possibly make headway? There's the escrow issue. In the old deal, eight percent of player salaries were withheld to ensure the players didn't get more of the 57 percent overall they were allotted. Toward the end of the deal, even that eight percent of withholding didn't ensure that.
So, in the new deal, the owners successfully increased escrow to 10 percent. That means that for Kobe Bryant's $30 million contract for 2013-14, he'll only actually get $27 million. (I know, poor guy.) He gets the other $3 million only if collective NBA salaries fall under 50 (plus or minus 1) percent of league revenue. We'll see if the 10 percent escrow is doing the trick by 2017. If it proves to be too much withholding consistently, the players could push to lower it back to something like eight percent.
But that's a small issue that temporarily fattens paychecks a little. Owners aren't going to expand contract lengths, and the mid-level isn't getting bigger by the owners' own volition.
No, the one area where players can potentially make some noise and have a case is in profits from team sales. Owners will refuse to play ball, and I, for one, am likely to side with the owners here. But it's one unaddressed area where the players can at least raise an argument that could grab a sympathetic ear from the basketball-watching public. Look at the Kings sale. $535 million -- about $235 million over previous valuations -- to crummy outgoing owners who lollygagged near the salary floor for years. And it happened about 18 months after owners, on the basis of massive annual losses, convinced the players to give them $280 million (and rising) a year in concessions. Players gave up 14 percent of their salary, and then saw the league's most hapless owners cash out at a 224 percent profit in 14 years ... and not because of a single thing the Maloofs did right.
I don't know what a player proposal on profit-sharing would look like, or whether the still-unselected new executive director and CP3 want to lob that shot. Potential expansion to Seattle and perhaps another city could figure into it, but it seems like the players' best opening at making gains in 2017, even if it's a longshot.
One thing's clear: if the owners cry poor again, the players have one helluva retort in the Kings.
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THE FORMER, CURRENT AND FUTURE AFRICAN SUPERPOWER
A year ago, I posited that Africa had a new basketball superpower: Tunisia, which ended decades of Angolan hegemony by beating that southern republic in the 2011 AfroBasket championship game. Angola hadn't lost a single game in continental competition in a decade running up to 2011. The Angolans dropped a group play game to Senegal, and the title to the Tunisians. And in 2012, for the first time since Seoul in 1988, Angola didn't represent Africa in the Olympics. Tunisia did. And so in my Tunisia Olympic preview, I wrote:
The question is whether Tunisia's new reign atop Africa is a blip in Angola's history, or a new norm.
Welp. AfroBasket 2013 wrapped up last Friday, with the top three finishers landing in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Angola won, beating Egypt 57-40 in the final. Tunisia finished ninth. I think we have a preliminary answer.
Congrats to Angola, who again asserted its African dominance despite the absence of NBA talent on its roster. (Cameroon had Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and finished No. 5. Nigeria has Ike Diogu and Al-Farouq Aminu and finished No. 7.) The program is spectacularly well-run, and I regret ever doubting its hegemony. All hail Angolan basketball.
MEET UDONIS HASLEM, THE GROOM
Udonis Haslem has long come across in interviews as one of the NBA's most thoughtful players, but nothing unwraps the gift that is Udonis quite like the piece on Haslem and his bride Faith Rein in the New York Times' Sunday weddings section. Haslem and Rein have been together since both were students of Florida, and have gone through some (very) trying times. Why did it take so long for Udonis to propose?
"I just didn't know how to ask her to marry me. We had never lived together and while she comes from a home with parents who have been together forever, my family experience with marriage had been negative and painful. There was no happy ever after."
The whole story is well worth the read, and now my favorite wedding announcement ever involving total strangers.