MINNEAPOLIS – The NBA locked out its players Thursday, joining the NFL in shutting down its league to seek a better financial deal for owners.
But there’s little reason to lump the NFL and NBA labor disputes together.
NFL owners make lots of money. They would like to make more. Considering that NFL players play the most violent of our major sports and possess the worst contracts and medical benefits, there is real reason for dispute here. But because the NFL is so successful and so few of its players can stand to miss paychecks, both sides are highly motivated to settle and preserve the 2011 season.
The NBA is different. Many teams are at least claiming to lose money, and while billionaire owners can afford to lose a few bucks, that’s not how rich people think
The NBA is also unique in that the bulk of its players, by any metric, are overpaid. There are a handful of stars in the league who draw fans and raise TV ratings. For every Kobe Bryant (24 million a year and worth it) there are two Rashard Lewises ($20 million and not worth half.)
The NBA’s financial system is broken. It is designed to reward 20-year-olds with immense, long-term, guaranteed contracts. Anyone who has parented knows how stupid this is.
This is why an estimated 60 percent of NBA players, according to a Sports Illustrated investigation, are broke within five years of retiring despite an average annual salary in their league of $5.85 million. Many NBA players make fortunes before they prove they can do their jobs. That system is unfair to the stars of the league, and proves to be unfair to the youngsters, too, because they are made wealthy before they know what to do with the wealth.
NFL players go broke in droves, too. Sports Illustrated estimated that 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt or close within two years of retirement, but the NFL statistic is less surprising. In general, NFL players make less money, less of the money they sign for is guaranteed, their careers are shorter and they face greater risk of brain and other injuries that can affect them the rest of their lives.
The NBA and the NBA Players Association met Thursday, then the league didn’t even wait until the late-night deadline for negotiations to announce the lockout.
This one could last a long time. While conventional wisdom holds that the NBA’s successful postseason would make the league less likely to jeopardize the next season, that’s wishful thinking.
The NBA enjoyed robust ratings during the playoffs and teams still lost money. Commissioner David Stern won’t start another season until a system more favorable to the owners is in place.