NBA as a hobby: Why owners will win the lockout

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(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—My friend Liz has just started cycling as a hobby. It’s a very expensive hobby, quality bikes cost thousands of dollars, jerseys and proper footwear are in the hundreds. But she’s always been athletic, she likes the competition and she loves being part of a close knit community of professional cycling women in her city. Now transform my friend from a charming 30-something African-American female ‘thousandaire’ to a greedy 50-something White billionaire, change cycling to the NBA and you’ll begin to understand why the NBA lockout will end this year and the players will lose out. Owners are pouting about a hobby, and players are fighting for their jobs.

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Negotiations between NBA Commissioner David Stern, team owners and Executive Director of the Players Union Billy Hunter have accomplished nothing this fall and games have been cancelled into November. Owners say they lost 300 million last year and want a 50/50 split with the players on league revenues. Players don’t trust ownership’s numbers and want the revenue split to stay around 55/45.

Many sports reporters are sounding the alarm that the season could be in jeopardy but I’m not so sure. This is not a staring contest the players can win, they wasted the summer months when union decertification might’ve been a good strategy and now they’re facing ultimatums from the owners. While owners recoup some of their game losses by scheduling concerts, conventions and trade shows to fill arenas; players are missing out on paychecks. Several owners have said publicly they could care less if the whole season is lost if that’s what it takes to get a more favorable deal. Why are the owners driving such a hard bargain? Let’s go back to my friend Liz.

For Liz, cycling is a hobby, not a job, not a future career and she doesn’t really care about ‘losing’ money on her hobby. In fact, she couldn’t have even started cycling as a hobby if she didn’t have a certain amount of disposable income to begin with. NBA owners are the same way, buying a franchise was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, the chance to play with life sized toys. Not one NBA owner needs to make money from their NBA franchise because they had to be billionaires to even buy one. Liz spends the money because she likes communing with other professional cycling women, whom she wouldn’t know otherwise. This is the same reason why Russian Billionaire Mikhail Pokorov bought the lousy New Jersey Nets team. There are only 32 NBA franchise owners on planet Earth, he’s in one of the most exclusive clubs in the world, not to mention he gets to hobnob with celebrities like Jay-Z, whom he would never have met otherwise. There are amateur cycling races where Liz could maybe win a free bike, or $500.00, but she’s more interested in winning than she is making back her ‘investment.’ Along the same lines NBA owners don’t really care about how much money they lose on their NBA teams as long as they games are exciting and they’re winning. That’s why owners of teams like the Knicks and Miami Heat were ready to end this lockout weeks ago, but owners of teams like the Pacers, Trailblazers and Clippers are ready to trash the whole season if that’s what it takes to get a new collective bargaining agreement that they like. Consider Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trailblazers, who haven’t made the NBA finals in 20 years or a conference championship in 10 years. He’s worth over 13 billion dollars. According to owners the ENTIRE NBA lost 300 million dollars last year. If Paul Allen personally lost 300 million dollars that would be the equivalent of someone worth $30,000 losing $620 bucks. Do you really think he cares about losing a whole NBA season? The NBA is a plaything hobby for these owners, and the players will need to get back to work long before owners notice a dent in their checkbooks.

One of these days Liz will get bored with cycling, or get frustrated that she’s not improving her times fast enough or winning enough races. Her expensive bike will sit in the garage, she’ll neglect her monthly membership to a bike club and her special toe grip cycling shoes will be lost in a closet somewhere. Of course her fickleness won’t cost thousands of people their jobs, and she won’t pretend that cycling was anything more than a pastime to begin with. It’s obvious she doesn’t have what it takes to be an NBA owner.

(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)

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