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Saturday, October 29, 2011

NBA Lockout: Three Ds

I have already explained The Real Deal About the NBA Lockout: my February prediction that there would be a long NBA lockout has proven to be prescient and I am confident that my other February prediction--that the lockout will not end until the players accept the reality that the NBA's broken business model must be fundamentally changed--will also prove to be prescient.

It is funny to do an internet search pertaining to the lockout and see how many so-called experts have wrongly predicted over the past few months that the lockout was about to end--but it is a bit disturbing to read/hear some of the nonsense that has been spewed about the causes, effects and ultimate resolution of the lockout; the media spin about the lockout could make even the most levelheaded, balanced person dizzier than Charlie Sheen on a bender. NBAPA President Derek Fisher boldly said that the NBA owners are lying and Dwyane Wade allegedly told Commissioner David Stern not to point at him: the players sound like whiny kindergartners ("liar, liar pants on fire"; "stop pointing at me") and yet the media full court press--blithely ignoring how broken the NBA's business model is--is mainly focused on attacking the owners, culminating in Bryant Gumbel's ludicrous, poorly thought-out (and antisemitic) rant against Stern: comparing Stern to a "plantation overseer" is offensive, a falsehood that simultaneously diminishes the true suffering of Black slaves in the American South while also slurring a Commissioner whose league has consistently been at the forefront in terms of hiring Black executives and coaches. Gumbel's attack against Stern comes straight out of the Louis Farrakhan playbook--portraying Jews as exploiters of Blacks--and Gumbel's consistent track record of expressing such bigoted attitudes would have terminated his career a long time ago if his chosen target were any group other than Jews (just imagine a White commentator speaking similarly about a Black person or anyone saying anything remotely derogatory regarding homosexuals).

Commissioner Stern just announced the cancellation of another two week block of games, meaning that the lockout has now wiped out not only the entire preseason but also the first month of the regular season. The only question now is how long it will take for the players to accept the reality that there will be no NBA games until they cooperate with the owners to fix the league's broken business model.

While we all wait for the players to come to their senses, the current situation can be summarized by looking at three Ds: a dream, a delusion and a diversion.

The dream is the players' apparent belief that they will ever recoup the money that they have already lost as a result of the cancelled games; the cold water that will eventually strike their collective faces is the reality that the deal they will eventually sign will be proportionately worse than whatever the NBA's best offer was before any games were cancelled: the players, not the owners, will ultimately "pay" for the lockout. Also, most of the owners will be able to regain their losses eventually over a period of years after the league's business model is fixed but most of the players will not be in the league long enough to make up the wages they are currently losing; the average NBA career lasts less than five years, so instead of applauding Wade's alleged toughness, the league's rank and file players should be pointing their fingers at Wade for all of the money he has helped take out of their pockets. There is much talk about the rift between big market and small market owners but the untold lockout story is that this labor dispute--like the previous one in 1998-99--is in many ways being driven by a few star players (such as Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Kevin Garnett--guys who are insisting that the players not accept less than 52% of the league's basketball related income) and their high-powered agents. It is the stars, not the majority of players, who would benefit most if the league had no salary cap. The 1998 lockout was precipitated by the massive contract received by Kevin Garnett, a deal that was a tipping point for the league much like LeBron James' "Decision" (followed up by the Carmelo Anthony and and Deron Williams sagas) was a tipping point last season; during the 1998-99 negotiations, Michael Jordan--who felt that he was underpaid for most of his career--told then-Washington owner Abe Pollin that he should sell his team if he could not afford to keep up with the inflated salary structure being demanded by Jordan and his cohorts (it would be interesting to be a fly on the wall in the current negotiations to hear what Jordan, who is now a team owner in a small market, is saying).

The delusion is that the players can create and successfully run their own league. This pipe dream is being propagated by David Berri, a "stat guru" who has long stated that NBA owners are incompetent and that coaching does not matter; if owners are stupid and coaches are mere window dressing then why shouldn't players be able to run a league, coach themselves and play? Just reread that last sentence again to soak in the full depth of Berri's foolishness.

Reputable and responsible "stat gurus" realize that so-called "advanced basketball statistics" don't work--in no small part because, while baseball largely consists of a series of discrete and measurable actions, basketball largely consists of complex and simultaneous actions conducted by various players--and even those who put some stock in "advanced basketball statistics" have heavily criticized Berri's methods and conclusions. Berri further betrayed his ignorance with this quote in a recent ESPN the Magazine article: "Even in the ABA, which had Dr. J and George Gervin, most of the players were nobodies. But the best players could be in this new league." Knowledgeable basketball fans know that the first part of Berri's statement is false and the second part is asinine. In addition to Julius Erving and George Gervin, the ABA featured Hall of Fame players Rick Barry, Billy Cunningham, Artis Gilmore, Connie Hawkins, Dan Issel and Moses Malone, plus many other high caliber performers who deserve Hall of Fame consideration (including the vastly underrated Mel Daniels and Roger Brown). In 1976-77--the first year after the NBA-ABA merger--the 10 member All-NBA squad featured four former ABA players, seven of the 14 players who received MVP votes previously played in the ABA, 10 of the league's 24 All-Stars were ABA veterans and four of the 10 starters for the two NBA Finalists began their careers in the ABA. This was not a one season fluke, either; ABA players Erving and Malone claimed four of the next six regular season MVPs and ABA players continued to figure prominently on All-NBA, All-Star and championship team rosters well into the 1980s.

As for the second part of Berri's quote, the implosion of the so-called World All-Star Classic graphically demonstrates that the NBA's stars cannot even put together a series of exhibition games, much less organize an entire league from the ground up. Furthermore, the proposal touted in the ESPN the Magazine article--a league consisting of 100 of the top NBA players--simply proves that the real divide is not between big market/small market owners but rather between star players and the rank and file players. Even if the World All-Star Classic had been a success, what good would it have done for the several hundred NBA players who did not participate or make any money from it? Even if the top 100 NBA players could build a new league from scratch, where would that leave the other 300-plus NBA players? When Commissioner Stern said that the "agents" are preventing NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter from agreeing to a deal he is referring to a handful of high powered people who represent the league's top players; those agents and their players are the ones who are forcing the lockout to continue, much like what happened in 1998-99 until Commissioner Stern threatened to not only cancel the whole season but start over again with new players: it is much more likely that we will see a "new" NBA with players who are willing to try to get by with the deal that the league is offering than that we will see Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and friends build a league of their own with Dave Berri as the Commissioner and Henry Abbott as P.R. director. Abbott claims to link to the best basketball writing regardless of its source but even a cursory examination of what he links to--and, just as significantly, what he doesn't--shows that claim to be false. It is puzzling and bizarre that ESPN's chief basketball blogger has been so consistently and stubbornly determined to elevate the status of Berri, an otherwise obscure associate economics professor/"stat guru."

The diversion consists of various puff pieces about which teams and/or players are most damaged by an extended lockout. Naturally, this is yet another way to continue the "great debate" regarding Kobe Bryant versus LeBron James (which actually is not much of a debate anymore: the younger, more athletic James is a more productive regular season player than Bryant at this point but James' postseason resume is a few lines--or perhaps a few paragraphs--less complete than Bryant's postseason resume). It should be obvious that the lockout is potentially much more damaging to James' legacy than to Bryant's: Bryant is a "made man" in NBA lore, a five-time champion whose place in history is quite secure--but James is a stat-sheet stuffer who has yet to win a championship. Bryant is past his prime and his Lakers are not likely to be championship favorites if/when the season begins but James is in the heart of his prime and his Heat have a limited window before either they decline and/or younger stars/teams rise to the forefront. Look at it this way: would a hypothetical 1990-91 NBA lockout have been potentially more damaging to five-time champion Magic Johnson or the then-ringless Michael Jordan?

Forget most of what you have read or heard about the NBA lockout; here is the bottom line: the lockout will last until the players agree to fundamentally restructure the NBA's failing business model, many basketball "stat gurus"--particularly David Berri--understand even less about the league's economic model than they do about evaluating players and it is baffling/infuriating that so many media outlets continue to employ writers/commentators who do not understand the basic issues that they arrogantly pontificate about. Henry Abbott cites Berri as if Berri is a basketball Yoda and Chris Sheridan is quoted/interviewed all over the place even though most of what Abbott and Sheridan have said/predicted about the lockout has consistently been proven false--and then Bryant Gumbel chimes in with a bigoted rant that should have ended his HBO career.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:52 PM


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Phil Jackson Expects Basketball Hall of Fame to Eventually Honor Jerry Krause

Jerry "Crumbs" Krause--who received his derogatory nickname from none other than Michael Jordan, the one key member of the Chicago Bulls dynasty who Krause did not acquire--may never live down his infamous declaration that "organizations win championships." Krause's simmering feuds with Coach Phil Jackson, Jordan and Scottie Pippen turned many Bulls fans against the team's general manager but Jackson--a Basketball Hall of Famer who presented both Dennis Rodman and Tex Winter at the 2011 induction ceremony--recently praised Krause for Krause's principled stand regarding Winter's Hall of Fame candidacy (Krause resigned from the Hall's Veterans Committee after one of the many times that Winter did not receive the nod). Jackson added that he expects that Krause will one day be voted into the Hall and Jackson noted that, even though the two men have had their differences, they shook hands prior to his year's Hall of Fame ceremony.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:31 PM


Julius Erving Denies that Financial Problems Forced him to Sell Memorabilia

Julius Erving says that he had a "sleepless night" after reading reports that financial difficulties forced him to sell 144 items from his personal memorabilia collection (a stash that includes three professional championship rings plus a 50 Greatest Players ring). A press release about the auction came out almost simultaneously with a report that an Atlanta bank is suing Erving for more than $200,000, so it was only natural to assume that a financial crunch forced Erving's hand regarding items that most people would consider to be priceless treasures.

When I looked through the auction catalog I noticed that Erving's Hall of Fame ring was not listed; it turns out that this is one of the few mementoes Erving decided to keep. One might think that championship rings and a 50 Greatest Players ring would be important to Erving--and also to his children--but Erving claims that he is not a "hoarder or collector" and that his memorabilia has been sitting in storage for decades. Erving explains, "My family is 100 percent behind it (the auction). We decided to do it a long time ago. To claim it's a firesale or to clear up some debt, I don't think so. You don't do an auction overnight. This has been long planned. We had 4,000 catalogs that have been mailed already to people who buy this kind of stuff. With me being involved in the process and the one that's putting it out, it's actually a better situation economically than if my children or grandchildren were to do it. We decided now's the time." Some of the proceeds from the auction will go to the Salvation Army, which has long been one of Erving's favorite charities (his basketball career began when he played for a Salvation Army youth league team).

I suppose that we have to take Erving at his word when he says that he is selling his memorabilia by choice and not necessity but the fact that the auction has been in the works for a while does not prove that there is no connection between it and Erving's financial situation; the bank lawsuit is just the latest in a series of financial problems hitting Erving, including the foreclosure of his Utah home and the loss of $5 million as a result of his investment in a failed golf course.

I hope that it is true that Erving is not broke or desperate but I must admit that I am puzzled by the notion that a great player would voluntarily sell off honors and awards that he worked so hard to obtain.


posted by David Friedman @ 12:10 PM


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Auction of Erving Memorabilia Includes 144 Items

The SCP Auction of Julius Erving's memorabilia will include 144 items from Dr. J's legendary career ranging from a Rucker League MVP trophy to various pieces from his UMass career to all three of his professional championship rings (1974 Nets, 1976 Nets, 1983 76ers) to his 50 Greatest Players ring. I don't know why Erving is selling all of these precious treasures and I realize that in this troubled economy many people will have little to no sympathy for a once wealthy person who has apparently fallen onto hard times but I find it indescribably sad that one of the greatest basketball players ever--indeed, one of the greatest athletes ever--is auctioning off such hard-earned awards and priceless mementoes.

I still hope that some of the many people who Erving helped and mentored over the years--including Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley--step up in Erving's time of need so that items Erving should be able to pass on to his children don't end up collecting dust in some wealthy person's trophy case. Failing that, I wonder if there is some way to organize a grassroots movement among Erving fans to pool our resources and buy back at least a few of the more significant items. For instance, the bidding on the Greatest Players ring starts at $5000 and the bidding on the 1983 championship ring starts at $25,000. I have no idea how high the bidding might go or how to coordinate some kind of "group bid" (if that is even possible) but if we could convince just 3000 people to commit $10 each then we could raise $30,000 to make minimum bids on both items. Obviously, if we could find more donors (and/or convince some or all of them to donate more than $10) then we could make a larger bid. I am not on Twitter and I don't have a huge Facebook following but if someone who has a big social media footprint spreads the word maybe we could do something nice for a player who meant so much to pro basketball history in general and contributed so much joy to our lives specifically.


posted by David Friedman @ 12:47 PM