How To Demonize NBA Players: A Manual, By Rick Reilly

On Thursday, Rick Reilly wrote a column on the paladins of professional golf, the scoundrels of professional basketball and the space between them in both their labor situations and their moral superiority, or something. I didn't intially catch this because, uh, it's Rick Reilly trying to make an actual point about something, which is like Andris Biedrins shooting a free throw or John Daly attempting a putt. It ain't gonna end well.

I wrote my latest NBA lockout column Friday morning on how David Stern and the owners have the impossible task of "crushing the union" without causing the collateral damage of salting the public perception of those players. It's impossible so long as the lockout is on because writers like Rick Reilly will write awful things like the column he had published on Thursday.

An excerpt:

You think if Tiger Woods played in the NBA he'd be limping around these past two years without a biweekly paycheck? Are you smoking oregano? In the NBA, he still would have made his many millions per year and the owner would help him wheelbarrow it to the bank.

Look at Greg Oden, the rarely dressed center for the NBA's Portland TrailBlazers. In four seasons, he has played 82 games. That's one season spread over four. If he were a golfer, he'd be in Columbus running a big and tall man's shop. But in the NBA, he has made $19.3 million. Nice work if you can get it.

Yes, if Greg Oden were a golfer, he might well be running a retail store. (Many Americans would also agree that that is nice work if you can get it.) But he is a basketball player. Let's talk about basketball.

Let's talk about the 1998-99 NBA lockout, when owners locked out the players and canceled 32 games and All-Star Weekend to get one major concession from the union: lower salaries. Again, the owners locked out the players because salaries that the owners were willingly offering to players had grown too high. It's, you know, similar to the very lockout the NBA is currently in. Owners have conceded that the deal they made in 1999 was bad, and they need players to make less.

Why does the NBA need a salary cap at all? Because without it, these owners would drive salaries into A-Rod territory ... or higher, given how much of a difference one player can make on both sides of the ball in the NBA. Why does the NBA say it needs a hard salary cap? Because the wealthier owners -- that is to say the ultra-wealthy elite among the ultra-wealthy elite who own pro basketball teams -- can afford to spend $100 million a season on player salary, while the poorer owners -- that is to say the less wealthy among the ultra-wealthy elite who own pro basketball teams -- can only make do with about $50 million in salary without losing their shirts.

To avoid being termed a monopoly -- something we in America frown upon and regulate because we don't like getting f----d by the ultra-wealthy -- the NBA engages in collective bargaining with its core labor, the players. Collective bargaining constitutes a lot of negotiating. The NBA in 1999 wanted stricter limits on salary. To agree to that, the union wanted to keep guaranteed contracts. The same battle plays out today. The NBA needs something from the union, so it needs to persuade the union to agree to it. The lockout is a threat of missed paychecks. That's one way to persuade. The NBA has taken the abolition of guaranteed contracts off the table. That's another way to persuade. This is really freaking basic.

Basketball generates a lot of money. NBA revenues surpass $4 billion. NBA owners have agreed multiple times over the years (including in proposals leading up to this very lockout) that players deserve a big chunk of that revenue because, after all, without the best players in the world, the NBA is not banking $4 billion a year. In 1999 and 2005, the NBA agreed to deals granting the players 55-57 percent of revenue. Their offers have reportedly dropped to 50 percent in this round. NBA owners themselves are willing to sign a deal granting 50 percent of revenue to players. That's $2 billion! That's a whole lot of ... uh, cheddar. (Food metaphors, yes?)

NBA players have a good deal. A good deal that the people who own the teams that make up the NBA once considered a win for them. A good deal that the people who own the teams that make up the NBA are trying to make less good for players. It's a great deal. Players have no complaints. The players' first proposal, in fact, was to continue this very same deal!

By comparison, PGA golfers have an awful deal, at least as Rick Reilly describes it.

Therefore, NBA players are jerks.

Once upon a time, NBA players had a bad deal. They were basically trapped with the team that drafted them for eternity. The conditions were pretty lousy. The pay compared to the revenue the league was making was kinda lousy. Becoming a pro basketball player in America basically stripped you of some pretty basic rights.

NBA players fought this. Connie Hawkins fought it. Oscar Robertson fought it. Dozens and dozens of legends of the hardwood and courtroom fought it. Current players have a good deal because the players that came before fought for it.

Instead of calling for pro golfers to fight for a great deal of their own -- via strike, anti-trust lawsuit or otherwise -- Reilly takes a young man with injury problems to task for pocketing an income granted to him by a billionaire under a set of rules agreed to by a set of billionaires who own NBA teams. If golfers are getting screwed, it isn't Greg Oden's fault.

And this is what we can look forward to so long as the lockout lasts: blind and blinding anti-player demonization efforts by the most prominent sportswriters and talking heads in America. (Can't wait for Albom to chime in.) This is why the NBA can't win: because no matter how clean David Stern's nose remains, vigilante player-haters like Rick Reilly are lined up to do his bidding. Stern doesn't necessarily want it, but it's damn sure going to happen. And in the long run, it's going to damage the NBA.

***

Even beyond the hurfdurf, keep in mind that Oden was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent for the 2011-12 season. Portland wouldn't have to pay him another dime. Instead -- and with the understanding that Oden might not be ready in time for the start of the regular season, whenever that is -- the Blazers extended an $8.8-million qualifying offer, which -- with one Hancock by G.O. -- could become a one-year, $8.8-million contract.

What a bum, that Greg Oden. The a--hole won't stop taking the millions of dollars Paul Allen is willingly offering.

***

Hat tip to Blazer's Edge.

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