“It’s supply and demand. If the supply is lacking, create it. That’s the American way…”–Kurtwood Smith, “Flashpoint” (1984)
When the National Basketball Association’s lockout of players ends–hopefully soon–will its overwhelmingly white billionaire owners realize fans pay to see players and not owners? And will its overwhelmingly Black millionaire players realize they’re in a professional sport many Americans don’t hold in high esteem?
As this is written, the lockout continues, with majority shareowners of the 30 NBA teams–all of whom are white except the Charlotte Bobcats’ Michael Jordan–close to forfeiting their hold on rabid and casual fans.
In other words, owners and players are close to killing their golden goose. Thus, for my money, it’s way past time for both to wake up and smell the coffee. It’s way past time for them to swallow their pride, put aside their differences and go to work–if you can call it that.
In one sense, I support the owners, most of whom–but not all–attained their wealth through years of hard work. In another sense, I support the players, whose lofty financial status is justified by the adulation of millions of people who pay to watch them in person and others who devote hours watching on television.
And yet, despite so many Black players, how many of us wonder why there aren’t more Black owners? Does anyone suspect a plantation mentality here?
On the other hand, how many of us feel that what these players do is actually work and not just a game? In fact, many NBA players didn’t graduate from college, and if they couldn’t play basketball, a lot of them wouldn’t be able to get a real job. Think about it.
One of the immediate effects of the continuing lockout is that superstars such as the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and the New Jersey Nets’ Deron Williams–as well as some lesser lights–have decided to play in Europe until the NBA comes to its senses, which makes sense. This permits them to keep their skills sharp and make some pretty good extra money. I’d be surprised if others don’t do likewise.
Of more importance, however, it demonstrates that players are itching to play and are sick and tired of the indecisiveness of their union and the team owners. These young men know they only have so many peak performance years in them, and the last thing they want is to waste time twiddling their thumbs.
Owing to failure to fashion a new collective bargaining agreement, the lockout–which began July 1–could shorten the 2011-12 season. The last time this happened was in 1998-99 and resulted in a truncated, 50-game season that left everyone dissatisfied.
This time around, NBA Commissioner David Stern, on Sept. 23, indefinitely postponed the Oct. 3 scheduled start of team training camps and canceled 43 preseason games. Even worse, the impasse could threaten the entire 82-game regular schedule, which is to begin Nov. 1–which Stern warned of on Sept. 29 before backtracking.
Predictably, things have heated up between owners and players. For example, the Miami Heat’s normally soft-spoken Dwyane Wade screamed at Stern in a five-hour negotiating session Sept. 30, highlighting the raw feelings.
While strongly stating the league’s case, the often condescending Stern pointed his finger at Wade while speaking. The player exploded in anger and screamed, “Don’t point your finger at me. I’m not your child!” It appeared that Stern may have been upset with Wade for contending earlier in the week that the league’s superstars are underpaid.
If the lockout is still on as this article is read, I’d like every single NBA player to attend the negotiating sessions, most of which have been held in swanky New York City hotels. These tall, talented athletes should dress in business suits and ties and pack the lobby and meeting rooms in a strong display of solidarity.
In my opinion, this would make the kind of positive statement that owners would have to respect. And when it was shown on television news from coast-to-coast, Americans everywhere–including non- NBA fans–would begin to understand the seriousness and dedication of these mostly Black young men.
As the talks drone on, the main issue remains how owners and players share the big bucks the league rakes in. This, despite some owners’ complaints that they lose money, which many players don’t believe. But the real losers are fans, who groove on pro hoops, pay through the nose to attend games and spend hours soaking up the action on TV.
One of the noteworthy aspects of this foolishness is the NBA’s failure to follow the lead of the much more popular National Football League. The NFL ended its lockout prior to the current season without losing games and now is doing what it does best–entertaining millions of Americans.
Pro hoops fans are in no mood for lollygagging billionaire owners and millionaire players. The public at large is suffering big time in these terrible economic times, with national unemployment at 9.1 percent–and around 16 percent for Black people. The cost of gasoline is sky-high and Americans everywhere are tightening their belts.
Conversely, most players earn more in one eight-month season than average citizens earn in their entire working lives. Yet, by depriving the players of their livelihood, the white owners show their true colors–no pun intended. And that’s the name of that tune.