Tagged: Los Angeles Lakers

The NBA’s Glass Wall: The Case of Jeanie Buss

(This is part three in a special 5-part series by sports analyst David J. Leonard on the NBA’s abysmal performance when it comes to gender equity.)

One of the more popular minstrel reality shows in VH1’s roster is the program Basketball Wives.  This show is consistently lampooned and derided online whenever it airs for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is that none of the women on the show are actually NBA Wives, not even in the common law sense.  That wives and girlfriends are interchangeable in VH1 parlance is peculiar enough, but more troubling is the fact that in an era where accomplished women are leading nations, running Fortune 500 companies, and in the case of Oprah Winfrey, a multi-platform media empire, when it comes to the NBA, the most prominent women is this gaggle of pseudo-celebrities.

Clearly, the NBA does not endorse Basketball Wives, so the point here is not to attribute the show as an extension of the league.  No, the issue is how does a multi-national corporation like the NBA which has housed two of the biggest sports stars of the last thirty-years, Michael Jordan and Yao Ming, allow itself to get outmaneuvered by VH1 and its tabloid fare when it comes to the dissemination of women’s images.

One way to begin this discussion is to explore the experiences of Jeanie Buss, which is profoundly instructive as to how the image of the “girlfriend” has become the league’s dominant meme when it comes to women.

In spite of her numerous professional accomplishments, most people know Buss more for her relationship with Phil Jackson, her appearance in Playboy, and her potential participation in the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and not as a Los Angeles Lakers executive (she is executive vice president of Business Operations).  It should come as no surprise that little has been made over the assumed anointing of Jim Buss and not her as the next leader of the Lakers.  After all, “It’s a man world,” and her entry into a hyper masculine space has been through her sexuality and body.

While I don’t speculate to understand the dynamics here, but raise the issue in regards to how little has been made about her not even being included in the conversation as a potential successor to Jerry Buss.  Jim Buss’ role as president and his power within the organization is obvious, yet little has been made as why him and not her.  Take a report on ESPN.com shortly before Buss’ promotion:

But now, with legendary coach Phil Jackson retiring and his father, Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, retreating a bit further from the day-to-day operations of the team each year, Jim Buss’ influence on the future of the franchise will be hard to miss.

His whims, his voice, will be the single most important force in the way the Lakers move out of this failed season.

Jim Buss has been constructed as the natural successor while Jeanie is depicted as Phil Jackson’s girlfriend.   Although Jim Buss has been routinely criticized for his decisions and communication skills, it is hard to find anyone suggesting that Jeanie would be better for the job.  This in spite of a fact that her success as a manager dates back to her early days serving as chief executive of the Los Angeles Forum, and overseeing business operations of the Lakers during both the Shaquille-Kobe era and the more recent Kobe-Pau period.  By contrast, Jim Buss’ two most important decisions in the last fifteen years has been hiring Rudy Tomjanovich and Mike Brown.

In short, Jeanie Buss is the most prominent example of the glass wall that seems to permeate the NBA.  Women are able to rise to the executive ranks in the NBA’s league office and the business side of many franchises, but they dare not cross over to managing day to day basketball operations.  That even a family owned franchise like the Lakers that has been extremely successful over the last thirty years would not portend to let a woman exist as a voice of the franchise is really telling about the density of this glass wall.

The themes here transcend the Lakers and the Buss family as we can see how the NBA is a hyper-masculine enterprise and that the participation of women so often comes in the form of traditional supports and sexual objects.  “The NBA would rightly point out that a number of women work in fairly important positions in the league office, where it’s easy to find people who care sincerely about such things,” writes Henry Abbott. “But women not only don’t play basketball for the NBA or its teams. They also don’t coach, make trades or hand out punishments. (They do, however, at almost every public NBA event, dance around in skimpy outfits for money.)”

That Jeanie Buss receives more attention, from media and otherwise, for her relationship history rather than her managerial acumen is indicative of the ways that women are accepted within sporting cultures.  Consumed as sexual object, as fulfilling traditionally accepted gender roles, Jeanie Buss has illustrated the difficulty of being seen in other contexts.


Is Andrew Bynum Really The NBA’s New Bad Boy?

Lakers center Andrew Bynum has become persona non grata within the Los Angeles media.  Bynum has become the source of media condemn and criticism, most of which has nothing to do with basketball, minus the manufactured panic over the Lakers’ non-struggles, and hand-wringing over whether Bynum is a viable trade asset in a deal for Dwight Howard.

T.J. Simers, in “Lakers need one more big man, fewer Chicken Littles,” feeds this panic over the Lakers in typical and clichéd demonization of Andrew Bynum.  Depicting him as a “big baby,” unreliable and injury-prone, Simers is skeptical about Bynum’s worth to the Lakers:

“If the Lakers are going to be successful, they need Bynum playing shoulder-to-shoulder with Gasol and Kobe, making it the Big Three. That would mean Bynum stepping forward as a professional,”

Simers piles it on further

“I have my doubts. I was in his corner before he went punk in the playoffs, the big baby walking off the court while removing his jersey.”

The infantilization of Bynum while seemingly without much basis is especially troubling given the history of representing black men as immature boys.   This column, however, doesn’t limit itself to the basketball arena offering cheap shots that would make any number of NBA “enforcers” proud.    He follows-up his discussion of the basketball issues with the following:

 Then he became the walking embodiment of the entitled athlete, twice in a span of two months having his car photographed parked in a handicap spot. Obviously he doesn’t care about the rules, civility or what others think. How many times did he park wherever he wanted without being caught?

The criminalization of black athletes is nothing new and Simers deploys this common deployed narrative with ease.  According to sociologist Jonathan Markovitz, “The bodies of African American athletes from a variety of sports have been at the center of a number of mass media spectacles in recent years, most notably involving Mike Tyson and O.J. Simpson, but NBA players have been particularly likely to occupy center stage in American racial discourse.”

While certainly not comparable in terms of the types of crimes involved, the language here is reflective of not just the efforts to criminalize black athletes, but the effort to comment on the attitude, personality, demeanor, and cultural values in the relationship to purported transgressions and criminal misconduct.  Simers essentially depicts Bynum as yet another example of a stereotype that Patricia Hill Collins refers to as a “‘bad boy Black”.  Paraphrasing sociologist Abby Ferber, implied in Simers’s assessment of Bynum is that Bynum is reflective of another basketball player whose  “out of control,” “unruly” “disrespectful,” and “in need of civilizing”.

What’s peculiar about this trend is that the NBA practically encourages these representations.  The Allen Iverson inspired dress code represents the clearest example that the league itself believes that its players cannot dress, much less comport themselves in a presentable way in public.

Simers is not alone in his effort to demonize.  Mark Medina, with “Andrew Bynum’s stubborn sense of entitlement,” rehashes the issue of handicap placards, while also noting that Andrew Bynum recently received two moving violations (for speeding and equipment deficiencies).  The horror (sarcasm intended).  This led Simers to write a second sermon, where he once again laments Bynum’s childish behavior, his immaturity, and his sense of entitlement reflective in the fact the “toughest decision he has to make every day: Which car do I take? Can you imagine keeping track of 13 different sets of keys?”  Simers not only writes about the traffic violations but also emphasizes the fact that he got these traffic violations while on suspension.  Worse yet, Simers bemoans the lack of accountability that both reflects and contributes to a sense of entitlement.  I always thought a suspension, lost money, tickets, and daily-hatched job columns constitute accountability, albeit unfair accountability in many ways.

Yes, in three straight days in the Los Angeles Times, two different columnists focused on Andrew Bynum’s alleged traffic violations.  Worse yet, these reports were reported during the TNT Thursday night telecast.  Hard to imagine why the public has such a negative view of the media.

What is instructive here is not just the effort to pathologize and otherwise define Bynum as “entitled” using tickets and alleged violations as evidence, but is the total erasure of context.  If Andrew Bynum is “immature,” “entitled” and unfit to play a prominent role on the Lakers because of these issues, he has a lot of company. According to a 2007 Los Angeles Times story, 2.6 million of 23 million drivers in CA held a handicap placard.  At 11%, it is clear that a sizable portion of those parking in handicap parking spaces do so under false pretenses.  According to an Associated Press story, over 25% (almost 60,000) of the 2 million disabled placards sent by the DMV were sent to deceased individuals.  This sounds like a much bigger problem than Andrew Bynum, yet readers are lead to believe that such behavior tells us something terrible about his character and values.  Moreover, those whose memory extends past the previous news cycle will remember that in 1999 a coterie of UCLA football players, including its highly touted quarterback Cade McNown, were similarly cited for using false handicap placards.

Lets be clear, I am not excusing behavior because others do, but rather questioning the ways in which these columnists used sensationalism instead of evidence, used stereotypes instead of facts, and used innuendo instead of substance to condemn Andrew Bynum.  One has to wonder what next week’s column will be about: the immaturity of some athlete evidenced by his propensity to jaywalk or because they don’t recycle.  Why not write a column on something that matters, basketball or otherwise, rather than take cheap shots that do little than reinforce stereotypes.  Better yet, how about you write about entitled sports columnists.



2011 NBA Season: Where Injuries Happen

After two days of the NBA season, it is clear that the shortened (ostensibly non-existent) training camp is having a significant impact on a myriad of teams.  The issue of injuries remains a real one, a fact that cannot be understood outside of the context of the players’ inability to prepare themselves for the season in a desired way.  For example, the Los Angeles Lakers, the only team to open the season with 3 straight games (against 3 teams who will be playing their opening game), are already battling injuries.  Kobe Bryant continues to struggle with a torn ligament in his wrist, with Pau Gasol suffering a shoulder injury and Josh McRoberts dealing with a sprained big toe.  The injuries have left three of the Lakers starters (McRoberts starting because of Andrew Bynum’s 4-game suspension) playing through injuries after two games, and a fourth, fifteen year veteran Derek Fisher, still not in regular season shape (he sat out initial preseason game because he wasn’t physically ready), it is no wonder the Lakers are off to an 0-2 start.

Like the Lakers, the Mavs are off to an 0-2 start, losing their initial two games by sizable margins. Mavericks small forward Shawn Marion broke his finger in their opening night defeat to the Miami Heat, and  following last night’s loss, Dirk Nowitzki acknowledged the impact of the lockout on their difficult start: “We look old, slow and out of shape,” he acknowledged.  “I still think this team has a lot of potential. We just need to work. … We probably needed extra weeks of training camp. But we don’t have it so the young teams, the athletic teams, look better right now than we do.” You don’t have to simply take the word of Notwitzki, as the impact of the lockout was clearly evident as Sean Williams vomited on the Mavs bench after leaving the game.  While media reports dismissed this as an afterthought in an early season blowout, it demonstrates the physical toll of the game and the overall lack of preparation afforded to NBA players.  After all, when was the last time you saw an NBA player vomit from exhaustion?  This may be a regular occurrence during pre-season workouts, but not part of the “showtime” experience David Stern and NBA officials pride themselves on exporting.   Williams’ exhaustion speaks to the poor work conditions experienced by today’s NBA player.

Other playoff contenders  are facing similar issues; whether it is the Knicks’  Baron Davis (herniated disc), Jared Jeffries (calf) and Iman Shumpert (knee injury); Eric Bledsoe of the Los Angeles Clippers (torn meniscus), or the Celtics’ Paul Pierce (toe), some of the NBA”s marquee teams scrambling to survive with make shift line-ups. Whereas the NBA has in the past marketed itself as the league where “amazing happens,” the 2011-2012 Season looks to be a year where “injuries happens.”

While the debate about the impact of the lockout (remembers players didn’t have access to treatment and team facilities throughout the summer and fall) and a shortened preseason on injuries will continue, what is indisputable is the impact of the schedule on injuries.  Beyond the demands of playing multiple nights, the compressed game and travel schedules cannot help in the recovery process.

Worse yet, the overall lack of public concern over the mental and physical strain of playing 6 games in 8 nights is revealing.  It demonstrates an overall lack of thought about NBA players as workers whose work conditions matter.   It demonstrates that the profits took precedent over the people of the NBA.  It illustrates that notwithstanding the hype over the NBA being back, mounting physical limitations confronting the greatest athletes in the world is turning the NBA into a league where “injuries happen.”


Nothing to Celebrate: Chris Paul and the NBA Imagination

I am a Lakers fan so any and all of my criticism should be seen through that window.  While Lakers’ haters have rejoiced over the draconian decisions from the league, it’s worth taking a moment to contemplate what exactly they’re celebrating.

For example, Dave Zirin is a brilliant commentator, with an amazing ability to both highlight the political dimensions of sport and use it as a way to elucidate the larger social issues of the day.  In his essay, “Sorry, Lakers: Chris Paul and the Clippers Now OCCUPY Los Angeles,” Zirin doesn’t just argue that a sea change is underway in Los Angeles.  He also connects the trade to a larger social upheaval inside and outside of the sports world.  “These aren’t two NBA teams. They are the two Americas. But in a 2011 where we’ve seen global revolutions from the Middle East to the Mid-West overturn accepted truths in thought and deed, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate way for the SportsWorld to end its year,” writes Zirin.

Zirin then makes his zeitgeist-tapping analogy more plain:

The Lakers have always been the ultimate team of the 1 percent. The Clippers are the also-rans, the afterthoughts, bottom-dwelling 99 percenters of the first order. One trade, and this sacrosanct truth has been turned on its head. To see an exhilarating symbol of the change 2011 has brought and 2012 will bring, you can do worse than remembering the names Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the soon-to-be almighty Clippers.”

David Stern’s decision to reward David Stern with a transcendent player such as Paul given his  given his history of racial discrimination is jarring enough.  After all we can not forget that journalist Bomani Jones once described Sterling in the following way: “That same man, who gives black men tens of millions of dollars every year, refuses to take a few thousand a month from folks who would like to crash in one of his buildings for a while? … . Sterling may have been a joke, but nothing about this is funny. In fact, it’s frightening and disturbing that classic racism like this might still be in play.”   Read in this context, Zirin’s position the Clippers as the 99% represents a troubling reimagination of the 99%. Can this really be the face, symbolic or real, of the 99%?

Yet, beyond defining the 99% as those who are not winning, what concerns me here is the failure to see how the Clippers won (and David Stern, Dan Gilbert, Michael Jordan, Nike and a host of other global corporations won) through the exertion of power and the adjustment of rules to fit the agendas, needs, and financial goals of these ultimate winners.  In fact, this entire Paul imbroglio is indicative of current economic policy, where rule -makers adjust games for their own benefit. Zirin’s assessment would have one believe that the Lakers were Lehman, and the Clippers Goldman Sachs, one got bailed out, the other didn’t.  But does anyone really believe in the possibility of an NBA landscape in which the Lakers’ aren’t somehow rendered as Goldman Sachs?

This Chris Paul debacle was the first clear sign that, post-lockout, the league’s agenda is to restrict player movement and contain player salaries while maximizing profits. This has been done under the guise of “achieving parity” but just like the “free market” the NBA is supposed to operate in, these are all illusions. The needs of public consumers – in this case, sports fans – clearly are not determining the marketplace. The oligarchs do.  Just as Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail while other banks were bailed out, the NBA made a decision to empower the Clippers at the expense of the Lakers, Rockets and others because of the larger effort to make the league more about teams and rivalries rather than stars.  In reimagining the NBA apart from stars, the NBA is attempting to rebrand itself thereby limiting the power and financial demands of the players themselves.   Josh Martin describes the situation as nothing to celebrate, especially since it’s illustrative of the unjust consequences of power:

 Hate David Stern for going Hank Paulson on his league’s marquee franchise, thereby setting a horrendous precedent that he might just do it again and bringing the business of player movement to a screeching halt as a result. . . .

Hate the owners who wanted (and still want) a hard cap AND salary rollbacks AND to prevent superstars from working where they want to, even after putting in years of service in smaller markets.

Hate Gilbert and Sarver and the Maloofs and all those other egomaniacs for screwing up YOUR favorite teams and then blaming their own missteps and bad contracts on their well-payed [sic] employees.

In other words, don’t hate The Player; hate The Game, the very same game that YOUR owners pushed for and that will ultimately cost YOUR teams in their pursuit of big-name free agents and NBA championships.

Clippers fans are right to celebrate CP3’s arrival in Los Angeles, but I’m not sure anyone else has cause for joy.  Trading Chris Paul is a testament to the continued oligarchy of the NBA; it is not a triumph of the 99%. Efforts to push Chris Paul to one team over another, the meddling and public statements of owners, are just the beginning of a systemic reconfiguring of the NBA.  Is that really worth celebrating?

Have the Knicks become the New Denver Nuggets?

In 2008-09 when the Denver Nuggets reached the Western Conference Finals they appeared on the verge of becoming an elite team in the western conference.  It seemed as if the frontline of Nene, Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin was finally rounding into form and might emerge as worthwhile challengers to LA’s triumvirate of Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol.  However, Kenyon Martin’s recurring knee injuries and Nene’s inconsistent play when healthy kept the Nuggets from fulfilling their promise.  The Nuggets were also often dogged by a pedestrian back court in a conference that featured such elite guards as Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker and Brandon Roy.

Now, in 2011 the New York Knicks have composed a team that bears a striking resemblance to these Nuggets teams that sputtered throughout much of this last decade.  Carmelo Anthony anchors both teams and Amar’e Stoudemire and newly signed Tyson Chandler are reminiscent of Martin and Nene.  Like Martin, Stoudemire is a dynamic power forward who’s had to overcome micro-fracture surgery.  Also like Martin, Stoudemire has often had to play out of position at center guarding much bigger players.  Stoudemire is arguably a far superior offensive player, but he’s also been blessed to play in Mike D’Antoni’s high-powered offensive system.

Similarly, Chandler and Nene are virtually the same player. Athletic centers with a penchant for stints on the injured list.  Chandler is a slightly better rebounder and guards the rim better, but Nene is a better offensive player and his passing skills complemented the talents of Anthony and Martin really well.  Where Chandler really distinguishes himself however is that he’s a maturer locker room presence than Nene. None other than Chris Paul can be counted to speak fondly of his support as a teammate, a fact that is not to be taken lightly given Paul’s close bond with Anthony.

Also like their counterparts in Denver, this Knicks team will have to contend with the likes of Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams without an all-star guard of their own.

Come this year’s playoffs, this year’s Knicks might very well find themselves in the same position as those 08-09 Nuggets.  A Knicks-Heat Conference finals would be must see TV as Miam’s Big Three goes up against New York’s newly minted Big Three.  If New York wins, then they will have bested their predecessors in Denver, and if they don’t, then we are likely to find this team seeking to answer similar questions to those that plagued the Nuggets the last three seasons.

Cavs Owner Dan Gilbert Blocked Chris Paul Trade

Yahoo Sports is reporting that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert led the charge to nix last night’s proposed Chris Paul trade to the Lakers.  Along with his well documented resentment about Lebron James’ decision to leave Cleveland last year, Gilbert likely also remembers Chris Paul’s infamous toast at Carmelo Anthony’s wedding where Paul openly fantasized about uniting with Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire in New York.

The Yahoo article contains the contents of an email sent by Gilbert to NBA commissioner David Stern that has been reprinted below:


It would be a travesty to allow the Lakers to acquire Chris Paul in the apparent trade being discussed.

This trade should go to a vote of the 29 owners of the Hornets.

Over the next three seasons this deal would save the Lakers approximately $20 million in salaries and approximately $21 million in luxury taxes. That $21 million goes to non-taxpaying teams and to fund revenue sharing.

I cannot remember ever seeing a trade where a team got by far the best player in the trade and saved over $40 million in the process. And it doesn’t appear that they would give up any draft picks, which might allow to later make a trade for Dwight Howard. (They would also get a large trade exception that would help them improve their team and/or eventually trade for Howard.) When the Lakers got Pau Gasol (at the time considered an extremely lopsided trade) they took on tens of millions in additional salary and luxury tax and they gave up a number of prospects (one in Marc Gasol who may become a max-salary player).

I just don’t see how we can allow this trade to happen.

I know the vast majority of owners feel the same way that I do.

When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?

Please advise….

via Cavs owner wanted trade blocked – NBA – Yahoo! Sports.

NBA Owners Block Chris Paul Trade

Last week I wrote about why a Chris Paul trade to the Knicks was virtually impossible.  One of the main reasons that I thought a trade was unlikely was because the NBA owns the Hornets:

Have we forgotten that the Hornets are in receivership? This team is technically owned by the NBA, and given everything that has happened over the past year, I am hard-pressed to believe the 29 other NBA owners would approve of a move that allows Paul to join the Knicks. Remember the fuss that Mark Cuban made about the Marcus Thornton for Carl Landry trade? Can you imagine the venom he’d spew if the Knicks were somehow able to flip Chauncey Billups, Landry Fields and Renaldo Balkman for Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza?

Even the notion that the NBA is considering trading acquiescing to Paul’s trade requests is likely to incite a firestorm of criticism from other actual team owners once the lockout is officially over. Stan Kroenke will surely have positive things to say about a franchise player bowing out of his contract and denying his team a chance at making the best possible trade.

This premonition proved to be true when league owners blocked a similarly absurd Chris Paul trade to the Lakers.  The idea that less than a month after the lockout the league was going to allow a marquee player bolt a “small market” franchise in favor of one of the “big market” teams was sure to antagonize owners throughout the league.  Moreover, why should other owners concede to making the Lakers a stronger team?  There’s a reason why corporations make top executives sign non-compete clauses, but for whatever reason NBA business owners seem to forget this standard corporate practice when it comes time to make a trade to the Lakers, and give them a king’s ransom time and again.

Leaving aside that this trade made very little sense for Houston and New Orleans, the fact is the Hornets are not a sole proprietorship franchise and this is a very serious issue in dire need of a resolution.  Nullifying this trade gives an impression that Hornets GM Dell Demps has as much power as anyone else who logs on to Real GM’s Trade Checker or ESPN”s Trade Machine.  A league can not function effectively if all teams are not governed in a similar fashion, and if all teams do not have equal opportunities to control their fates (regardless of how derelict some of them might be in doing so).




Lakers Get Chris Paul

Again, can someone please remind me what was the purpose of this lockout?  Did we really need to delay the start of the season a month and a half for the Lakers and Knicks to make the first big free-agent splash.  Right on the heels of the announcement that the Knicks have signed Tyson Chandler comes news that the Lakers have a deal in principle for Chris Paul.

According to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers, Rockets and Hornets have agreed to a three team trade that sends Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic to New Orleans.  Pau Gasol will go to Houston.  And Chris Paul will go to the Lakers.

As lethal as a Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant back court might sound, I cannot help but wonder that the Lakers might have given up too much size.  Then again, Ron Artest did play some power forward during his time in Indiana, so there’s a chance he could slide over there when the Lakers go small.  Still, giving up Gasol and Odom means that LA has a lot of confidence in Andrew Bynum, which remains to be seen whether this is indeed warranted.

On the other hand, is it just me or do the Hornets now look a lot like the Rockets?  With Scola, Odom, and Dragic, New Orleans has a lot of solid players, but no one that really wows you.  It will be interesting to see how long Odom stays.  He could very well get Amnestied and make his way back to LA.

Finally, I know some will consider it sacrilegious that I don’t pray at the altar of Daryl Morey, but I don’t see how this trade helps Houston other than shedding some salary.  I’m not sure I get the logic of trading Scola, Dragic and Martin for Gasol.  This appears to be a lopsided trade in favor of the Lakers, and one that is made worse when one considers that Houston is actually helping not one, but two of their conference rivals improve.


Will 2011-12 NBA Season Be Best Ever?

Arguably one of the positive outgrowths of this recent NBA lockout is the shortened–66game–season.  As much as I love the NBA, as a fan it can sometimes be tedious watching elite teams (i.e. The Lakers) coasting through early season games then still having to endure the presence of teams for whom by mid-season it’s clear they having nothing to play for (i.e. The Clippers).  A shorter season means teams have to start jockeying for position and making their playoff pushes much earlier, which in turn means that there are likely to be more competitive games.  While I agree with Yahoo’s Marc Spears when he declares that a shortened season and back-to-back-to-back games are likely to adversely affect older rosters such as the Celtics, Lakers and Mavericks, upstart teams like the Thunder and Bulls, not to mention gritty squads like the Pacers and Bucks will benefit from a wide-open shorter season.

Put differently, at 66 games the NBA season is double now double the NCAA regular season, and one reason that college basketball enthusiasts love their sport is because there’s a sense that every game matters.  Teams are jockeying for a number one seed in the NCAA tournament from the tip-off of the first game and this struggle does not stop until one team is left standing at the end of March.  We saw a glimpse of how this might play out in the NBA during the 1998-99 lockout, but there were far too many out of shape players and the quality of play never recovered.  It still remains to be seen whether enough players kept themselves in good enough shape to hit the ground running in December, but Eddy Curry aside, there’s ample evidence to suggest that this crop of players are in better shape than their predecessors.  Moreover, there are a considerable number of players who would love nothing more to hoist that crown at the end of this season, and who might see this year as their last chance.  A shorter season might further motivate Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, etc to put it all on the line one last time for another championship.  Bryant of course has the most to gain because another title would tie him with Michael Jordan with six championships.

And we haven’t even mentioned the Miami Heat and what they could possibly accomplish if Dwyane Wade has fresh legs going into the finals.

However you slice it, this upcoming NBA season is not bereft of story lines at all, nor is the league lacking in players capable of living up to the moment.


Should NBA Players be Allowed to be Part Owners of Their Teams?

One of the causes for this current NBA labor dispute is the inability of small market teams to remain profitable.  A soft cap that was tied to a luxury tax incorporated into the previous collective bargaining agreement has not generated the kind of revenue sharing between small and big market teams that the league imagined.  Instead of a level playing field, teams such as the Knicks, Lakers and Mavericks have been able to spend as they see fit for the best talent available, or in the case of the Isaiah Thomas era Knicks, the most dysfunctional talent available.  Owners and players alike agree that changes are needed, but the two sides are miles apart on exactly who should bear the brunt of responsibility for these changes.

I’ve long been an advocate of contraction, something unlikely to occur.  Now I would like to offer another prescription for the NBA’s economic woes.  It’s time that the league consider abolishing the rule that prohibits active players from becoming part-owners of a team.

Comprised of about 400 players the NBA is a small league compared to its counterparts Major League Baseball and the National Football League.  NBA players are more recognizable than their peers in other sports and a dynamic player is infinitely more capable of transforming a team’s fortunes in terms of ticket sales and victories.  Think about how many promising young quarterbacks whose careers were derailed because they played behind poor offensive lines.  Compare that with the sellouts enjoyed by the Raptors at the Air Canada Center during Vince Carter’s tenure even though most of those Raptors’ squads were middling at best.  Fans flocked to see Carter play in ways that NFL fans in say, Carolina, would never flock to see David Carr–or Indianapolis fans to see Peyton Manning were he not leading them to the playoffs year after year.

The NBA is as much a white shoe law firm as it is a sports league.  NBA players are key revenue drivers, or to continue the law firm analogy, NBA players are the ones who bring in the clients (fans) to the arena.  One way that law firms retain their top lawyers is by making them partners.  Law firms do this not only as a way of acknowledging the work done by a particular attorney, but to also ensure that they don’t strike out on their own as their client lists build up.  And in turn, lawyers accept these offers to become partners because it saves them the costs that they’d incur if they started their own firms.  Under the current system NBA teams provide their attorneys (the players) with a great platform to build up their client rosters (i.e. endorsement deals) but can’t offer them anything beyond a higher salary when a player decides he wants to take his services elsewhere.

Take last year’s LeBron saga.  One of the supposed drawbacks to staying in Cleveland was that LeBron could make more money in endorsements by signing with the Knicks or Bulls.  More endorsement money for LeBron didn’t necessarily translate to more revenue for the Cavaliers, and vice versa, continued high octane ticket sales also wouldn’t translate to more money for LeBron.  Did it really make sense to limit the Cavs to being able to pay LeBron as much as Atlanta paid Joe Johnson?  LeBron is infinitely more valuable to the Cavs than Joe Johnson is to the Hawks so why should he be held to the same standard?

What if Cleveland had been able to offer LeBron a 3% ownership stake in the franchise, a 5-10million dollar cash investment in his branding firm LMR, and HR/back-end support for all of LMR’s ventures as long as LeBron remained a Cavalier.

Granted, there’s no guarantee that LeBron would have taken this offer, but if such a deal had been on the table, it would have made things more interesting.  After all would Miami have been able to afford LeBron, Wade and Bosh if Cleveland and Toronto had been able to extend such lucrative options to their marquee players.

Who knows, maybe LeBron works out a deferred compensation package with Cleveland, and lures Joe  Johnson or Ray Allen to help him in his quest for the title.

As it stands now the current NBA salary structure is incapable of really addressing a player’s value to a particular team or franchise.  The problem isn’t that Gilbert Arenas or Rashard Lewis make 17million dollars a year.  No, the problem is that teams are hamstrung in their ability to appropriately compensate the players who are its economic engines. Moreover, teams continue to see every player simply as an employee when clearly there are a handful of players who are not simply employees, and for whom an argument can be made that they deserve to be partners in their respective franchises.   Its unconscionable that Kobe Bryant wasn’t consulted by the Lakers before they decided to hire Mike Brown.  Bryant didn’t deserve to have the final say, but he did deserve to have a say, as did Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom for that matter.

But maybe Bryant prefers to be a Laker employee and would rather not integrate his other ventures with the Lakers brand.  There are other players, namely Dwyane Wade, who has shown an interest in being a manager and recruiting talent for their teams.

Ironically, the biggest drawback to this proposal is not that it would create another salary-tier among players but rather that given the financial straights of many NBA franchises a player is better off simply accepting the max-contract than venturing into an ownership stake.  Really, would you flock to become part owner of the Kings right now?