(This column first appeared on sheridanhoops.com)
By Jan Hubbard
Less than two decades after James Naismith invented basketball, he attended a game between Kansas and Missouri and was appalled when he saw Rule No. 5 of his Thirteen Original Rules of Basketball being violated.
That rule calls for, “No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping or striking,” because the premise of basketball was that it would be a non-contact sport. Even by 1910, however, players were doing what comes natural, gleefully banging into each other like a bunch of early-day Charles Oakleys and it was ugly. Naismith was not amused.
“Oh, my gracious,” the good doctor said, “they are murdering my game.”
For 149 days in 2011, NBA fans could relate. The game of basketball was healthy – in colleges, Europe, Asia and other outposts. But NBA owners and players were shouldering, tripping and striking each other as they fought over $4.2 billion in revenue and threatened to murder a season.
The celebration of the settlement has been universal but, as always, there’s more to it because negotiations are simply another part of competition. While lawyers for both sides work on the language of the new agreement so that training camps can begin Dec. 9, everyone else is focused on who won and who lost. And in sports, that is important. It’s not enough to have labor peace, we absolutely must know who got the better of whom.
Opinions have been consistent with most analysts – well, make that all I have read – awarding a technical knockout to the owners. The players are getting a lower percentage of the revenue than before, contracts are shorter and controls are tighter.
It is not my nature to be cynical – I do, for instance, believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and the virtues of non-alcoholic beer – but the judgments sound very much like those from 1999 and 2005 when owners were declared the victors immediately upon the completion of negotiations. One agent quoted anonymously in 1999 said union boss Billy Hunter “got killed” by NBA commissioner David Stern.
Yet it is that 1999 agreement, which included an individual maximum salary and a rookie wage scale, that led the owners to claiming monstrous losses in recent years.
So now, for the third consecutive collective bargaining agreement, the owners are winners. At least that’s what is speculated.
But did the players really lose?