Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Basketball Culture and the NBA Labor Dispute

Please do not mistake this blog as a fervent desire on my part for the NBA season to finally start.  On the contrary, I am quite delighted that my ESPN homepage is not covered with NBA game news, pictures of players, and other NBA related items that I really could not give much of a care for.  However, the ongoing labor dispute between the millionaire players and billionaire owners is really touching a nerve.  The owners recently offered the players half of the entire league's revenue, money that would go towards their salaries, and they turned it down.  The NBA is a multi-billion dollar industry, and half of that money was not enough.  This is not an attack on the players, nor is it a defense of the owners.  This is an indictment: the NBA players and owners are nothing more than greedy parasites who will never have enough money and refuse to work together to overcome their differences.

Earlier this year, many people were [justly] upset over the NFL labor dispute because they felt it was a battle of millionaires (players) versus billionaires (owners).  What many people did not realize is that it is a smaller percentage than one would expect that makes millions playing professional football.  That is not to say that all football players do not make a lot of money; the average salary in the NFL is $1.9 million, a number that is greatly ballooned by the mega-deals signed by superstar players like Albert Haynesworth (who signed a $100 million dollar contract a few years ago).  In actuality, most NFL players make less than $1 million a year.  This is certainly not a bad annual wage; one would have to be incredibly irresponsible not to be able to make a living off of that salary.  However, because NFL players make considerably less than other professional athletes, they garnered more public sympathy.

This fall, though, NBA players find themselves with far less public support than the NFL players received.  The reason being is that instead of the average NBA player making less than $1 million a season, the average player makes more than $5 million a year ($5.15 million according to Steve Aschburner of NBA.com).  Of course, NBA players play more games in a year than NFL players, but NFL player careers are considerably shorter than those of NBA players and the chance of serious injury is far greater when playing football.  Not only that, most NFL players will find themselves on the field at one point or another during a game.  If they do not play offense or defense, they most likely will be used on special teams.  There are NBA players collecting millions sitting on a bench, playing MAYBE 10 minutes a season.  These scrubs are living the kind of life every lazy Tom, Dick, or Harry wish they could have.

Alright, so NBA players make more than NFL players; so what?  What's the big deal?  Why don't NFL players demand to be paid like NBA players?  The answer to all of those is simple: the culture of the NBA does not take the value of money seriously; they take the value of having a lot of money seriously, whereas NFL players know they have the potential for a very short career and are more apt to conserve their money (this is also a generalization; there are plenty of NFL players who file for bankruptcy after they retire, but most find work in other areas of business or communications).  If we were to look into the financial records of any NBA player, it is a reasonable hypothesis that we would find quite a bit of heavy spending.  I realize that I am stereotyping, but let me defend my stance with a few observations.

Observation 1: Have you ever stood outside an NFL stadium parking lot and waited for the players to drive in?  I have.  I remember standing outside Lambeau Field and watching the likes of Ahman Green, Donald Drive, and Brett Favre drive into practice.  It is true that some of these players had very very nice cars (nicer than I will ever own), but the majority of them were driving trucks, midsize cars, or SUV's like any other person would drive.  One the other hand, NBA players typically have very nice cars (or several cars for that matter).  When NBA players are shown driving into workouts or games, they are usually seen in high-end convertibles, sports cars, or fancy SUV's.  They, of course, make more money so they can afford these vehicles, but it also goes to show how much more lavish their tastes are.

Observation 2: NBA players, more than any other athlete in any other sport, do not end up with high-paying jobs that will allow them to keep their rich life-styles after they retire.  Again, there are exceptions to the rule: Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Michael Jordan have done very well for themselves in the business world, broadcasting world, or by coaching.  When NFL players retire, most of them have stashed some money away because of their fear of an early career-ending injury.  Some do go into broadcasting or stay in coaching; others invest into small businesses and maintain a steady income in their post-football years.  NBA players, on the other hand, do not always find their way back into the luxurious life-style they once had.  We find some players attempting music careers or investing in some businesses, and that is all well and good.  However, very rarely does one hear of an ex-NBA player thriving in the world post-basketball.  As I said before, there are exceptions; but this is just an observation I have made as a die-hard sports fan.

Observation 3: NBA players do not have the greatest work ethic.  Do not get me wrong, obviously becoming good enough to play professionally took a lot of hard work and determination.  However, like many people, once they achieved their dream, they stopped working as hard.  Again, there are many players who do not stop trying to work hard.  In fact, many players are concerned about being the best player they can be.  Their work, though, does not extend far past the court.  They are nothing more than glorified high school and college athletes who can not do anything of value off the field.  They care nothing for anyone or anything besides themselves, evidenced by their unwillingness to come to a compromise with the owners and start playing for the fans who really pay their salaries.  Some NBA stars have been playing in exhibitions and signed to play overseas during this lockout.  Most have not and we are left to wonder if they are really working out or practicing at all.

I said before that this is not an attack on the players and I have spent a considerable amount of this blog pointing out things they are doing that aggravate me.  All of these observations may admittedly sound like an attack, but they combined with the "thug" demeanor that many players have make it difficult for one to feel sorry for them at all.  I would rather pay to see people play sports that care about their fans and can [in general] give an intelligible interview.

Let us not forget the incredibly greed of the owners.  It is true that they have a lot more to worry about financially than the players.  It is also true that if the players had their way, there would be very few teams and cities that could afford to pay a team every season.  Players do not have to worry about paying anyone except their agents (and alimony payments, child support payments, bail payments, out-or court settlements; again, I realize I am stereotyping, but NBA players have done nothing to show the public differently).  It is, however, also true that fans do not pay to see the owners.  When we go to see games, we want to watch our favorite teams and athletes succeed.  Owners, like all businessmen, need to make a profit; how else will the keep a team?  They, like the players, have extravagant life-styles to uphold, though.  I have never seen an owner in any sport drive up to games or events in their own car; they are always driven via limo.  Nor have I ever seen an NBA owner, besides Mark Cuban, get in touch with the people who pay to see their teams.  To owners, we the fans are nothing more than cash cows to be milked out of every dollar possible.  Even if players were not demanding more money, ticket prices would be marked too high for some to afford in order that owners can pocket more cash themselves.

Perhaps I am being too harsh on the NBA.  It is entirely possibly, and probably likely, that this is the way it is in all sports.  However, as long both owners and players continue to complain in the media how one side is trying to destroy the other, they will also bring criticism such as mine on themselves.  They deserve it.  There are thousands, ten thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of kids/young people that would love to make just a fraction on an NBA player's minimum wage.  In addition, these guys are making a living PLAYING A GAME!!!  Teachers, police officers, garbage men, postal workers, and many other blue collar individuals do more real work in a year than these players will do in their lives and the players will make more in a year than many of these other people will make in a life time.  Is that fair?  No, but it's life.  Those of us who work for a living can deal with these owners and players making money we cannot dream of ever achieving, it's their inability to shut up and do their "jobs" that is irritating.  Players, owners, accept that you are and always will be richer than 95% of the population and get a deal done.  Not because you are missed, but because you are being ridiculous.

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