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Solving The NBA Lockout, One Fun Idea And Contracted Team At A Time

A prominent sportswriter has the NBA lockout all figured out. Oh, wait. No, he doesn't. News at 11.

The NBA lockout is 112 days old. It has exceeded the average lifespan of the female mosquito, and it has sucked more life out of a substantial subset of the American population than a swarm of mosquitoes could. It still does not appear that we are close to an agreement, though every day the sides meet can be a positive step or two. Blame has been volleyed as furiously as a shuttlecock in Beijing. Every observer has their bias, their angle. Let's face it: at some point, all of us have felt as if we are smarter than David Stern and Billy Hunter.

I am here to tell you that Bill Simmons feels that he is smarter than David Stern and Billy Hunter.

The ultra-famous (for a sportswriter) sportswriter announced that he has purchased Los Angeles Kings season tickets to fill the arena experience void left by the NBA lockout. (He is otherwise a Clippers season ticket holder.) In describing what makes hockey so wonderful -- "highest percentage of 'most likable players'" is one such rationale -- he badgers the NBA for what it is doing wrong beyond the cancellation of games.

And frequently, the criticisms make no sense.

The players need to realize that professional basketball's economic model is shifting to a different place - a less favorable place, especially as far as attendance is concerned - and that these owners aren't being dishonest, just scared.

This is not an issue contained to the NBA: the explosion in broadband adoption, cable/satellite TV options and high-definition equipment has made the at-home viewing experience so good that not attending games in person (at the incredible expenses that can entail) is a fully acceptable way to follow a team. But that's OK, because larger audiences -- and some of the only audiences on TV that don't watch their programs on delay, thus skipping commercials -- means larger TV revenue. See the Lakers. See the Celtics.

The players realize this. This is why they push hard for revenue sharing, knowing that revenue disparity among the teams will only increase because of the size of potential TV audiences. This is also why a 10-year collective bargaining agreement with no opt-out clauses has been a non-starter for the union: the players know a new national TV contract is coming in a few years, and that it will be fantastically lucrative, and that negotiating a new deal with that revenue coming in is a whole 'nother ballgame. The players are not stupid.

The owners need to realize that, instead of overreacting by pillaging the players, they should be working with them while also creating a smarter business model.

As if creating a smarter business model is more feasible than adjusting the current business model to a more profitable level. I'm not exactly sure, by the way, why a business that grew almost 5 percent in the rough-as-sandpaper 2010-11 timespan needs a smarter business model. Expenses are too high, yes, and that's hurt or killed profitability. The arena situation in the NBA is a disaster, and the level of debt can be outrageous in some cities. But the core problems with the NBA model can be addressed by cutting expenses. That's what the owners are doing (or trying to do, at least).

I think the NBA should look more like Hollywood's movie structure. I think middle-class guys should make half of what they make now, and stars should make even more.

This is not far off from the owners' position.

I don't think any contract should last more than four years.

This is the owners' position.

I think we need a better rewards system in place, so that players who outperform their deals (like Derrick Rose winning the MVP while on a rookie contract) and stars who make three straight first-team All-NBA teams (like Dwight Howard) get rewarded in some way.

Perhaps they can be allowed to sign lucrative contract extensions or achieve full market value via free agency?

I think the season should be shorter (75 games) ...

David Stern reads this as "I think we should cut revenue."

... and I think we need an April play-in tournament for the 8-seeds in both conferences just because it would be fun.

What's a restructuring of the NBA business model if not an opportunity to inject fun ideas, after all?

I think we should contract/merge several franchises until we settle at 27 teams ...

I'm sure there's a compelling reason that Simmons will provide.

... I think Seattle should have a team ...

So now we're down four current markets -- three contracted, one team moving to Seattle.

... I think Chicago should have two teams.

So we're killing five current markets. Please explain.

I don't think that the L.A., Chicago and New York teams should pay to keep struggling basketball teams afloat in Charlotte, Indiana, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Minnesota and New Orleans.

Neither does the NBA. Hence: the lockout, in which the NBA tries to drastically cut its biggest expense, which is player payroll. The NBA is also working on a big revenue sharing package, which sets a flashing arrow on the fact that these teams have stayed afloat without decent revenue sharing. Revenue sharing would help these teams make money. Lower player payroll would keep them afloat.

Why is a columnist who brings up Seattle in every NBA column so eager to erase five, six other NBA markets?

We need to create a league in which Jose Juan Barea can't make more than $16 million for four years, and only because that's what a valuable third guard who doesn't sell a single ticket should make.

... says Bill Simmons, self-appointed NBA salary arbitrator.

We need to give owners better checks and balances (because 80 percent of them have proven they're too incompetent to handle a relatively free market) ...

The old "save them from themselves" argument.

... and we need to convince players that it's not always a good thing to grab as much money as you can possibly get (because nothing turns off fans quite like overpaid and underachieving athletes).

"Dear Joe Johnson, I am writing this letter to implore you to reject the Hawks' $120 million offer, because nothing turns off fans quite like overpaid and underachieving athletes." This is a serious suggestion?

We need better ideas.

I agree. (Wait, we're talking about Simmons' column, right?)

We need to keep thinking outside the box.

Contraction, salary limits, convincing players to turn down millions of dollars: this is outside the box.

We need to stop looking so freaking old and stubborn and intractable and painfully self-unaware.

Who is this "we" by the way? Chris Jones, who writes for the very site that Simmons leads, wants to know when Simmons took a job in the NBA. You know you don't play sports, right Bill? /killjoy

Forget about solving this particular lockout.

But we were on such a roll!

Where is this league going?

Wherever you take it, Bill.

What does it want to accomplish?

Growth, I'm guessing.

Who will be shaping that transition into the "Internet/HD/65-Inch TV/iPad/secondary market/multitasking/Facebook/Twitter/it's-fun-and-cheaper-to-stay-home" decade that, by the way, started three years ago?

The NBA is indisputably the leader among major sports leagues in digital adoption. From League Pass Broadband to NBA TV's Fan Night to the bonus online camera angles ... I mean, the NBA is pretty on top of this, moreso than any other league. (MLB offers the most fan-friendly online packages, but the NBA makes a killing off of LP Broadband.)

Why won't Stern say when he's leaving? What's his succession plan?

It's pretty clear that he is grooming Adam Silver.

Is Adam Silver taking over?

Yes, probably.

And if he is, why isn't he being more empowered right now?

Silver is the lead negotiator for the NBA in the lockout. But maybe it would be more obvious if he carried a scepter around.

From the players' side, who takes over when Billy Hunter retired five years ago? I mean, five years from now?

Players' union succession plans matter deeply to taking the NBA into the new decade, you see.

Who will be shaping the league????

Many of the same people who currently shape the league: prominent owners like Mark Cuban, star players, league leadership and the hundreds of brilliant minds working in the NBA's marketing and business development offices. (Some of them have swooped into New Orleans and Sacramento since the end of last season. Coincidentally, the Hornets and Kings have sold absurd numbers of season tickets ... despite the lockout. Weird.) The same people who have helped the NBA grow during the worst economy since the Depression will shape the league.

Nobody knows these answers ...


... and if there's anything scarier about this whole fiasco, I haven't found it. It's a league that pretends to be "reinventing" itself when, really, it hasn't done any real innovation other than how it's embraced the digital world and its business relationships in Europe and China.

"It hasn't done any real innovation other than make huge gains in the biggest growth opportunity the league can achieve: audience expansion globally and audience expansion domestically." That's what globalization and digital progress is all about: bringing the product in front of untapped or underserved audiences with money. David Stern has done that extraordinarily well. These are not dismissable gains.

You know how you create real change? You seek opinions from outside parties. You have brainstorming meetings with non-basketball thinkers who might have one or two ideas that make sense. You don't hide behind words like "globalization" and "digital" as false evidence that you're big thinkers.

Brainstorming meetings with non-basketball thinkers who might have one or two ideas that make sense > tapping China. Bill Simmons for President.

You don't embarrass yourself by pooh-poohing contraction and telling people, "Please, David has never lost a team on his watch" while also threatening to cancel an entire season.

Killing 10 percent of your company is the best way to grow your company and makes total financial sense. Bill Simmons for Council of Economic Advisers.

I don't trust the players' side to make the right choices, because they are saddled with limited intellectual capital. (Sorry, it's true.)

A sportswriter who asserts without evidence that killing three teams, cutting the schedule, adding a play-in tournament, convincing players to reject millions of dollars and talking to Malcolm Gladwell will lead the NBA to the promised land is accusing NBA players of having limited intellectual capital. This is outrageous. There's really not much more to say about it other than Bill Simmons just said that players are largely stupid. (On Friday, he pointed out that Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, who did some negotiating for the union, had a combined three years of college. I would love to see Simmons argue anything "intellectual" with Kobe.)

I also wonder if Simmons read Jonathan Abrams' Grantland profile of Hunter, who is on the players' side and has more "intellectual captial" in his fingernail than most of us have in our whole bodies.

The owners' side can't say the same; they should be ashamed.

Previously in this column, Simmons said that 80 percent of the owners have proven incompetent. Gosh, players must really be dumb.

Simmons goes on to talk about how the NHL will profit off of the lockout, conveniently ignoring that 13 of the 29 NBA markets don't have an NHL team, that most NBA fans don't have the financial wherewithal to experience the NHL live (which is clearly a superior way to watch hockey vs. television) and most Jordan-era NBA fans -- that is, those who grew up or come of age watching Jordan -- didn't have the hockey-infused childhood Boston-bred Simmons did. Further,  the NHL could be a year away from a lockout of its own! 

There is plenty to criticize about the NBA and players' union right now. That Simmons misses the mark so badly and so frequently tells you that there are no easy answers. I know that it's good business for sportswriters to pretend that they are smarter than the men in charge (and I certainly admit I have been guilty of the same), but it's getting out of control. 


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