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NBA and NBPA are inching towards a new CBA

Looking back at ‘99, ‘11, and why it won’t happen in ‘17

Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing On Domestic Violence In Professional Sports Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images

Okay, so I remember the 1999 NBA Lockout. It hurt the Utah Jazz more than it helped. Sure, Utah won a high percentage of their games — but a longer season would have further displayed their brilliance over a longer sample size. They were, after all, the team that was returning with their core that had just gone to two straight NBA Finals. But the ‘98-99 season wasn’t to be, instead we had a ‘99 season that was just 50 games. For John and Karl and crew, it abbreviated their window of opportunity. If the playoffs shaked out a little differently you know that Jazz team would have swept the New York Knicks in the Finals. Even if Patrick Ewing wasn’t injured. Also, it wiped away an All-Star game, so there’s one fewer of those on John and Karl’s resumes than there should have been. Still, not as big as having a full season to get into Playoff mode.

Before we get any farther, let’s stop the media spin. A lockout is the OPPOSITE of a strike. The NBA Players (and their association, the NBPA) were not striking because they were greedy. They were locked out of their factories (the arenas where they work) because the owners were greedy. They just had better PR. The main problem was that the Players were getting paid 57% of the Basketball related income split. (BRI) The owners claimed that half the teams were losing money. The players said that couldn’t be economically possible with how much money the league was making, and the huge popularity of the league in the Michael Jordan years — with TV deals domestically and abroad.

The owners wanted a bigger piece of the pie, and were willing to wait it out. They were billionaires after all. Some NBA players were millionaires, but the majority were thousandaires. The NBPA had to buckle, and did. The owners got almost everything they wanted. A salary cap. A rookie scale for contracts. And of course the biggie, the BRI split tipped in the Owners Favor.

Of course, the unintended consequence is more and more players would later demand the max money they could earn (depending on how many years in the league they were in), where was before players were more willing to sign contracts for less than the maximum amount. Oh well. Even that worked out in favor of the Owners as they could point to that and say “look at how greedy these players are!”

The poor Owners then locked the Greedy players out again in 2011. This time it was a shorter siege, 161 days instead of 204. This was a tipping point, sure, there was a 66 game season and an All-Star game this year. But the players lost even more, there were harsher rules on salaries (honestly, the players are techinically viewed as property at worst and a commodity at best) and the BRI spit went all the way down to 51.2% for 2011-12, and then for the rest of the years of this agreed upon CBA they’d be making less than half of the money.

Just so we’re all on the same page here — no one is going to be earning billions of dollars to see old white guys in business suits throw chest passes to one another. The players ARE why the game is worth watching. They MAKE the majority of the money for the system, but are now taking home a minority of the money.

So from the two lockouts the players, regardless of the difficult things they had to agree to in order to keep playing in the NBA (luxury tax, stricter screening process, etc) they’ve gone from a 57% BRI split to 49%. That’s nearly a 10% loss.

Yes, the contracts have ballooned since the 90s. Timofey Mozgov and Harrison Barnes make more now than peak era Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley did. But they haven’t ballooned in proportion to how much money the league is making right now.

In the 90s the players said that only 4 of the 29 teams posted losses while the NBA said it was 15. Today? With the huge TV deals that were just signed? EVERY TEAM IS MAKING MONEY. Teams no longer have to go for broke to get a 1/16th share of the playoff pool just to break even anymore. Every ownership group is posting a profit right now.

We all saw Larry H. Miller cry in press conference, and saw their smart lawyers talk about how the players were the greedy group. That was the optics all over, the NBA players, young, rich, entitled black guys who wore flashy clothes and jewellery, were the greedy guys -- striking from their jobs that payed them millions. Most of the casual sports fans I talked to during the two lockouts had that opinion, even though the fact that it was a lockout meant that it was, fundamentally, the opposite of a strike.

So where are we today? We’re close to avoiding another lockout. But there are a lot of things that need to be considered still. There are two good piece here.


The Woj piece is pretty nuts and bolts. Most of the big things have been agreed upon between the two parties. The BRI Split is still going to be 49/51 with the Owners making the most money while playing zero minutes of defense outside of what their legal teams do. A rule change that prevented players from signing 5 year deals if they turned 36 years old during the deal is now going to be for players turning 38 during that deal. It’s all peanuts. But I really don’t think that ANY of the teams can claim that the league isn’t doing well; which was the causus belli for the ‘99 lockout.

The interview with Michele Roberts was ‘real’. I didn’t like her, for whatever subconscious biases I had held against her. But it changed my mind on a few things. It’s worth the click over.

The really bad taste in the players' mouths was certainly reflected in the division of income that changed. I mean they went from having 57% of the income to a presumed 51%. So that obviously was not well received.

But the really bad taste was being locked out. I mean, these guys want to play ball. Just as the fans were agonizing about not being able to watch basketball being played, these men were agonizing about not being able to play.

No question they got hosed. They certainly lost because of that shift in income. We're talking about $2 billion that used to be on the players' side of the aisle, it shifted to the owners' side. (There's) bitter feelings about what happened.

But these men are grownups. The view is, 'Okay, that happened, what can we do going forward to make sure we don't suffer the same kinds of consequences?'

What we're doing is finding out ways to grow the pot such that, to the extent it would be the case, though it's not, teams could complain about profits being on the decline, that we could figure out a way to grow the pot such that we wouldn't have to take that kind of backseat again financially.

So it's taken some time to get some of the players onboard to appreciate that that loss does not mean that's what we can look forward to in the future. We're not going down that road again.

Michele Roberts, NBPA President, to Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated, 2016

Even though they have lost every battle so far it’s nice to see that the Players are willing to work with the Owners to try their best to make it good for both parties. But please, it’s not the players who are the greedy ones. The workers aren’t the bad guys. But then again, some people make their entire careers about destroying worker’s unions. And those are the ‘good guys’ apparently according to some radio personalities.

The Jazz lost out in ‘99. But in ‘11 they gained something, and squeaked into the NBA Playoffs when the four teams ahead of them in the rankings decided to tank after the All-Star Break. Not having to deal with a lost ‘17 season means a lot, and is worth more than the Billions these two groups are fighting over. This Jazz team, and with the way the CBA is, has to strike soon. You can’t wait 10 years anymore to make your move to get to the NBA Finals like the Jazz org did with John and Karl. Especially not with the threat of the next lockout always a few more “greedy players” news stories away.