Warning to NBA owners, players: You are not missed

Union president Derek Fisher (left) and executive director Billy Hunter (right) have stood firm against the league.
Union president Derek Fisher (left) and executive director Billy Hunter (right) have stood firm against the league. (JULIE JACOBSON / Associated Press)
Posted: November 06, 2011

What if a labor stoppage blew out an entire NBA season and nobody cared?

Would that bring spoiled players down from their lofty perches and convince them once and for all that they're not as worshipped by the American public as much as they thought? Would that make owners of NBA teams think less of their ability to see a sport as more than just an asset that adds to their personal fortunes?

The NBA regular season was supposed to start last week. Instead, the fan remained the victim of yet another monetary tug-of-war between wealthy men.

So far as I can tell, there are only two major issues on the board.

One, the players don't want a 50-50 split of all the revenues the league makes.

Two, the owners are insisting on a hard salary cap because they were too stupid to control themselves in regard to the salary cap under the old system. The old salary cap was as loose as consommé. It allowed owners to exceed the defined league salary cap number to no limit, as long as they were signing their own players. That cap made it possible for stupid teams like the New York Knicks just a few years ago to crank their total payroll to about $125 million when in actuality the salary cap limited them to something like $58 million.

It's a blissful utopia in which rich people live. The NBA owners allowed the system to get out of whack. But they always reserve the right to flip over the Monopoly board, stop the game, and rewrite the rules. Sorry, campers, our profit margins are decreasing, our asset isn't as sellable. It's about time we revalue Boardwalk and Park Place.

The following are the coldest, hardest truths that I can express to both the owners and players in this NBA lockout: We don't have any more patience for these sports work stoppages, and even if we did we're certainly not going to waste our time lamenting the loss of the NBA.

Guys, we're tired. And when fans are tired, they don't care. And when they don't care, you have no leverage. And when you have no leverage with a fan base, when the fan base doesn't miss the product that much, you may as well just fold up the tent. You've all but lost.

I'm a supporter of organized labor. Many years ago, as a full-time reporter at The Inquirer, I sat through a strike that lasted seven long weeks. (I admit that I took a job as a department store cologne sprayer to help pay the rent.) At the time, we were fighting for marginal percentage increases in our yearly salary and some improved benefits. It was a time when the newspaper still was somewhat king. Online news websites didn't exist. Back then, people couldn't live without their morning papers. It was a huge chunk of their everyday lives. And since we controlled a product that was desired, we had leverage. At the end of the day, when the thing was finally settled, the money we gained still wasn't good enough for any of us to splurge on a fancy watch, but I think you get my drift.

If NBA players would ever get their heads out of their cash pile, they would see that no fans are down at the arena toting cardboard signs urging owners to give them back their pro basketball.

See, right now in pro sports, football is Americana. The NFL's work stoppage took fans to the brink, and without Sunday pro football, or Monday, or even Thursday, fans would have gone stir crazy. (My heavens, fans might even have been forced to read a few books or study political issues a little harder in order to make sure we elected the right public officials. Perish the thought.) Now that's leverage.

The NBA and the NHL are niche sports outside the standard of care. Heck, we held a grudge against baseball for several years when it went on strike.

All right, so maybe in the cities with championship-caliber NBA teams - like Dallas, or Miami, or Los Angeles, or Chicago, or even Memphis (Memphis?) - they're lamenting. In Philadelphia, we're too worried about whether Andy Reid is going to continue to run the football Monday night against the Bears. We don't have thoughts of Elton Brand dancing in our heads right now.

So owners, players, work out your hard salary cap and your 50-50 revenue splits. And until you settle, you will not be missed.

Mike Missanelli hosts a show from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 97.5-FM The Fanatic. Contact him at mikemiss@975thefanatic.com.