NBA doesn't deserve so much criticism

By Scott Tibbs

There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the National Basketball Association lockout, which recently ended to allow for a shortened season. Both owners and players have been publicly chastised, portrayed as a bunch of greedy multimillionaires who don't care about fans and place the almighty dollar before everything else.

I believe this stereotype has been unfortunate, and is to a large extent an unfair characterization of both owners and players. The NBA is a multimillion-dollar business, and it is only natural for each side of the labor dispute to attempt to get what they believe is rightfully theirs.

The owners have taken their share of lumps during the lockout, but to some extent they have been on the correct path in fighting for the health of the league. The NBA is different from many other industries in that all of the different teams have to be financially sound in order for the league as a whole to do well. In the automobile industry, for example, Ford does not have to care if General Motors is having financial difficulties, as financial difficulties on the part of GM allows Ford to attempt to gain greater market share in order to gain profit. But the NBA is different in that the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers have to be concerned about the smaller market teams such as the Indiana Pacers, because financial problems in the Pacers organization hurts the league as a whole because of the way teams share revenue.

To this end, a salary cap is a good thing. It helps keep costs under control, while still allowing players to make large amounts of money. A salary cap helps smaller market teams compete for star players. Without a salary cap, large-market teams would dominate the league, as star players leave teams like the Pacers in favor of the big money that large market teams can offer. While selfish motivations are certainly present amongst the owners in this debate, their position on preserving the health of the league is accurate.

But it is the players that have taken the most flak during the lockout, and that flack has largely been unfair. First, the labor strife in the NBA is not a "strike". It was not the players who started the situation that nearly killed the season; it was the owners who locked out the players to force capitulation to their demands. To blame the players for this situation is incorrect.

Many individual players have been attacked in the press during this lockout. For example, Patrick Ewing received a great deal of criticism for his statement that NBA players are "fighting for their livelihood". On the surface, Ewing's statement appears foolish, as his critics quickly pointed out that Ewing makes $18 million dollars a year. But Ewing was not merely speaking for himself, but for the disappearing middle class in the NBA, and for the players who make the NBA minimum salary. While it is true that the $250,000 plus minimum is not chump change by any stretch of the imagination, it is not on the level of "multimillion dollar players" that many people have been attacking. Ewing was not simply looking out for his own selfish interests, as his critics have suggested. Instead, he was looking out for all his fellow players. For that, he should be commended, not booed as he was by the fans at Madison Square Garden at a recent preseason game.

Players have also been attacked for making "too much money", which is unfair. Many people have suggested to me that nobody deserves a Kevin Garnett salary of over $100 million just for playing basketball. But Garnett did not force the Minnesota Timberwolves to sign that large contract. Instead, it was a consensual agreement made by willing participants. In any case, it is the players who do the work on the basketball court to bring in revenue for the league, and they deserve their fair share of the revenue that they have created. In any case, of players such as Kevin Garnett and Antoine Walker did not make these large salaries, all the money would go to the owners. With all the revenue the NBA takes in, SOMEBODY is going to get rich.

But my biggest concern is the tinge of class-warfare rhetoric that accompanies this tirade against "million-dollar owners and players". Many critics of the league seem to be resentful of the NBA simply because the owners and players are rich and the critics are not. In a free society, we should be happy for those who have earned their salaries, whether in the field of business or sports. Nobody in the NBA committed any criminal acts to make the millions they do. This is not an illegal drug trade. It is a free-market enterprise, in which the fans consume the product of their own free will, and the NBA owners and players rightfully keep the profit from the product that they sell.

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