clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

It's time for NBA players to share in team sale profits

New, comments

The despicable Donald Sterling walked away with a huge pile of cash after his team sold for a record price. Players should do whatever they can to fight for a piece of that pie.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As Steve Ballmer takes over the L.A. Clippers, the NBA family breathes a sigh of relief at being rid of the holy embarrassment named Donald Sterling. There will be no boycotts, no protests, no whiplash legal observing. He's gone and the league is better for it. The Sterling legacy is one of shame, disgust and gross racism.

The $2 billion Sterling and his wife will walk away with also leaves a legacy of its own.

Even after the overheated sales of the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks, the Clippers' purchase price was outrageous. Even in Los Angeles, even for an under-leveraged asset, even in the new NBA, even if we could make sense of it in the end. The price tag popped eyeballs and raised eyebrows.

That the sale came less than three years after the league's team owners rolled players in collective bargaining matters. The players gave up roughly $300 million of salary per season to owners crying poor. The owners' argument was that some teams couldn't stay solvent with players taking 57 percent of league revenue.

Left out of the revenue equation; the massive profits most owners make when they sell their teams.

There's only one owner -- Robert Johnson, who founded the expansion Bobcats -- who appears to have lost money in the aggregate in investing in the NBA. The Nets' Bruce Ratner might have taken a bath on his distressed sale of the team as well, but undoubtedly profited on a wider scale because he leveraged the franchise into one of New York's biggest development projects in recent years in Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. Comcast didn't make a huge profit on the Sixers since they sold before the lockout was resolved, puzzlingly.

But every other sale (and there have been many) has netted the outgoing owner huge profits, and none were bigger than the payday afforded to the Sterlings. Players were already agitated in 2011 based on the huge sale price drawn by outgoing Warriors owner Chris Cohan, who earned $450 million for a team that at that point had two good seasons in its past 20. Sterling's team sold for four times than figure.

Team sales don't figure into basketball-related income because the folks netting the dough are leaving the league, so the players so responsible for the increasing value of all NBA franchises don't share in the profits when a franchise gets sold. The other NBA owners don't directly either, but rising sale prices boost the value of the their franchises.

This is a cudgel players should wield more heavily in 2017 labor negotiations. The Ballmer purchase blows all others out of the water and into the front of mind. That round, fat number just can't be avoided. If owners want further reduction of players' share of revenue, players should point to the Sterlings' take with their index fingers and throw up their middle fingers for good measure.

The owners don't have to bend, but players don't have to break.

One league retort to this issue I heard from officials in 2011 is that owners, not players, carry the risk of financing a team and thus should be afforded the profits when a franchise changes hands. But at this point, there is no risk to owning an NBA team. The Maloofs ran a team into the ground, crossed the NBA and still made off with a record sale price. Donald Sterling was stupid and horrible enough a person to get banned from the NBA for life and still made a 10-figure profit. A 10-figure profit.

Risk? What risk?

The owners don't have to bend, but players don't have to break. It's reasonable to consider the last four collective bargaining agreements (back to 1995) to be the owners regaining control of the finances of the league. They ended the Glenn Robinson-style rookie deals, the Juwan Howard mammoth contracts, the Isiah Thomas-style payrolls, the Kobe Bryant $30 million per year salaries.

Now a man who did less than nothing to help the league grow has a $2 billion cash-out. Isn't it time for players to fight back?


Get news, links and Ziller's #hottakes in your inbox every weekday morning.