Football fans everywhere rejoiced Monday when the NFL lockout officially ended with nothing more than one exhibition game missed. That outcome of what was an ugly situation may have provided basketball fans with some hope that the NBA’s labor dispute will come to an end without any lost games.
However, while both lockouts ultimately happened for the same reason — money — it does not look like the NBA will see a similar end. Facing what commissioner David Stern called a “huge philosophical divide,” the two parties appear further apart than their NFL counterparts.
In fact, Suns guard and co-union representative Josh Childress said in an interview with ESPN’s Jim Rome that the two sides are “as far (apart) as the East is from the West.” Not a good sign.
Revenue and how it is split among players and owners was a key sticking point in the NFL lockout and is similarly an issue for the NBA. The NFL owners will now get about 53 percent of revenue. Under the now-expired NBA collective bargaining agreement, owners received about 43 percent and have been insistent that the players agree to a reduced percentage, more than the 54.3 percent the players offered in negotiations.
That is the major financial similarity between the two leagues’ labor disputes, but the NBA has a much bigger problem on two fronts: player contracts and a hard salary cap.
While NFL owners did seek (and got) means of reducing wild spending on first-round draft picks, they did not seek the drastic changes sought by the NBA owners. The NBA owners are looking to cut player salary costs by roughly $750 million per season, implement a hard salary cap system and reduce the length and guarantees of contracts.
Those demands do not sit well with the players, who have seen major salary increases in recent seasons simply due to the nature of the NBA right now. This is ultimately what could force the NBA lockout to drag on much longer than the NFL’s. Players are being asked to sacrifice financial and career security, and they have expressed that they are ready to wait as long as it takes to retain adequate assurances.
The owners want to stop hemorrhaging money every season, and with the iron-fisted Stern leading that charge, they aren’t likely to give any time soon. Additionally, owners appear tired of getting stuck with long-term deals on players who only perform to expectations for part of the contract’s length.
It’s not unreasonable to say that spending on players in the NBA has gotten a bit ridiculous in recent seasons. Role players and semi-stars are getting much more money on longer contracts as teams continually try to outdo each other in free agency. For this, both players and owners are to blame. The players and their agents started demanding more money and the owners obliged.
Because of this fundamental difference at the center of the labor impasse, the NBA lockout is not likely to see the relatively swift ending the NFL saw. Additionally, the difference in the nature of the two leagues created a more dire situation for the NFL to start its season on time. With only 16 regular season games and more potential revenue loss overall (the NFL is, after all, the most profitable league in the U.S.), the NFL had more to lose.
However, the NBA and its players also have plenty on the line should their season start late or be lost entirely. For owners, the potential loss of ticket, merchandise and advertising dollars is significant while players stand to miss out on their salaries completely and also lose part of or a whole season of their NBA career.
There may be a lot on the line, but both Stern and NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter have made it clear that they are firm in their respective stances. While the NFL lockout saw its share of stubborn stances and pessimistic outlooks, things look much bleaker for the NBA. Sports fans can enjoy football season once again, but come November, there may be no basketball to go along with it.