Disclaimer: I’m a new NBA fan. For the first time in my life, I’m living in an NBA market and have a fan interest in a team. The Pacers have won me over. If you like basketball, the NBA is an outstanding product. Yet, like every professional enterprise in these lean economic times, the NBA is struggling to adjust. David Stern has been one of the longest-tenured, most successful commissioners in the history of sports. Here’s what he needs to do to avert a lockout and preserve his legacy:
1. Continue to improve the NBA’s image Could it have been any worse at the 2007 All-Star Break? Players behaving so badly they made Las Vegas blush? The Pacers are a great example of a franchise dedicating itself to cleaning up its image. After Reggie Miller retired, the Pacers were left with a leadership void. That left room for Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson to be front and center as the “faces” of the franchise. That would be like CBS naming Charlie Sheen network spokesperson. Predictably, disaster ensued. Remember this gem:
Also predictably, ticket sales plummeted. Larry Bird and the Pacers cut loose Artest and Jackson and established a new culture in the franchise. Other teams have followed suit. Artest and Jackson are still playing, but they’ve been put on notice about their behavior. Perhaps no bigger message was sent than when the NBA suspended then-Wizards star Gilbert Arenas for an entire season for carrying a weapon in the locker room. The league must continue to be vigilant in monitoring player behavior.
2. Contraction Recently, Commissioner Stern claimed that 40% of the teams in the league were losing money, some as much as $350 million a year. Time for a going out of business sale. The NBA over saturated the market during boom economic times. Now, they’re left with franchises in places like New Orleans and Oklahoma City that won’t support their teams, even though they’re playoff caliber. Contraction would solve two problems: first, it would rid the NBA of some of its dead financial weight. This would benefit both the league and the players. The league ridding itself of debt would leave a higher overall revenue pot. The players, contractually entitled to 57% would have a bigger pot split over fewer players. Second, it would help consolidate a diluted talent pool. To be blunt, there are players with NBA contracts that have no business in the league. An ancillary benefit would go to college basketball, as more players would opt to stay in school since there would be fewer roster spots available in the NBA.
3. Eliminate player “collusion” When owners get together and conspire to manipulate player movement, it’s called collusion and the NLRB is called. Why should it be any different when players do it? This summer’s Lebron James farce was incredibly damaging to the league. The league should introduce language into their CBA that would fine players for colluding to influence the market and give the league the power to veto such moves.
At its best, the NBA gives us the grace and artistry of the world’s best players. It has, however, shown awful moments of thuggery and crass egoism. David Stern needs to continue to act forcefully to keep his league at the forefront of professional sports.