August 3 - August 9, 1995

Running With The Weasels

B y  T o m  D a n e h y


FOR THOSE OF you who missed it, the National Basketball League, the premier professional sports league in the world, has been dragged down into the muck where previously resided only the dregs like major-league baseball and hockey.

And it's not because the players and owners were involved in some bitter contract dispute. Heck, the two sides already had an agreement. For that matter, the two sides had always been friendly and the negotiations were so amicable that the players' union fired their original negotiator because he was taking too hard a line and dragging his feet against the owners.

No, the NBA has been dragged down because a few greedy agents (if you'll pardon the painfully obvious redundancy) realized they wouldn't be getting filthy rich(er) under the new agreement and leaned on their big-name clients (Jordan foremost among them) to do the only thing that could overturn the agreement--to claim the union which negotiated the contract doesn't actually represent a majority of the players.

It was only 15 years ago that the NBA was on the verge of financial collapse. Attendance was awful, the TV contract was so bad that games in the championship series were shown on late-night TV after the local news and the M*A*S*H reruns.

Both the players union and the owners saw the handwriting on the wall and they did the adult, businesslike thing--they came to an agreement that was good for everyone concerned. Thus was born the salary cap and revenue sharing, financial arrangements which guaranteed the players would receive a majority of the league's revenues, but also that all of the teams must have virtually identical payrolls, preventing the rich teams from hoarding players, while also maintaining a competitive balance throughout the league.

The NBA took off from there. It was certainly helped a great deal by the '80s-long rivalry between the Celtics and the Lakers. But mostly it was helped by the perception and reality of stability on the financial side, a perception which led to expansion, a lucrative bidding war for the TV rights and steady growth in popularity and profitability. The NBA was the first league where the average player salary topped $1 million, and NBA players are still far and away the best-paid of all professional athletes.

In recent years, the money was flying around so fast and in such big numbers, that some serious concerns arose. Untested rookies were demanding and getting contracts in the tens of millions of dollars. Merchandising revenue was outstripping money from other sources and the players were concerned that they weren't getting their fair share.

As the original contract expired, both sides vowed there would be no work stoppage like those which tainted other leagues. The two sides negotiated throughout the season and playoffs and just as they were about to announce an agreement that would make everybody very rich, up steps Michael Jordan, who had only been back in the NBA for a few weeks, and says that he will try to have the union decertified because it doesn't represent the wishes of a majority of the players.

Jordan has publicly claimed to be looking out for the little guy, stating that he (Jordan) will never get paid what he's worth but he wants to make sure that the lower-paid players in the league (those who only make around a million or so per year) and the rookies are given a fair shake under any new agreement.

This is nonsense. Jordan is merely acting as a shill for the agents. Heck, if some agent helped make me a multi-buzillionaire, I'd probably be loyal to him, too. I just hope I'd be more honest about my motives.

The main problem the agents have is that the new agreement has a rookie salary cap. Rookies will still become instantly rich, but in the future they'll actually have to step on an NBA court and show that they can play a little bit before they get a chance to become obscenely rich. No longer would a rookie be able to hold out for $40 million. They would be paid according to a schedule based on what other players drafted in similar slots had been paid in previous years. And the money saved under this plan would go to the veterans, those who have actually earned the money by having performed in the league for a number of years.

This, of course, does not sit well with the agents, who make out like bandits, mostly by employing hardball tactics while negotiating rookie contracts. The new schedule would benefit everybody except the agents. There may even come a time when there will be no need for agents.

Heck, the only reason they exist now is to provide a buffer between people who engage in bestiality and the absolute bottom of society's barrel.

The union and owners are frantically trying to hammer out a new agreement, one which a majority of the players will support, thereby killing any decertification moves. Let's hope they succeed.

There has already been an unnecessary lockout, one which has stained the league's image. I hope that's as far as things go.

As for Mike, despite what the commercials say, I don't want to be like him. In fact the only people who want to be like him on this issue are in law school. And we don't much care for them, either.

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August 3 - August 9, 1995

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