No Sympathy in the NBA Lockout

Millionaire players and billionaire owners are not the ones who suffer most if games are canceled.

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Many of us find it difficult to sympathize with the economic stresses claimed by millionaires and billionaires (or "job creators," as they are known in some circles). The lockout by the National Basketball Association surely falls into that category.

The league announced recently it was canceling the first two weeks of the professional basketball season, a tactic presumably meant to extract more concessions from the players. The players had a 57 percent share of what is called "basketball related income," or money that comes in from things like ticket sales and team products sold on-site. They're willing to come down to 53 percent; owners want things evenly split. The players have a point: let's remember, they're the talent, and owners have no business without hundreds of freakishly tall and agile men to play the game. And it is ludicrous for owners to assume they should somehow be guaranteed a profit; that's hardly an assumption other businesspeople make in this economy. But the players (who tend to be merely millionaires, unlike the billionaires who make up some of the owners' side) are being less than flexible about a hard salary cap, a solution which could be better for the fiscal health of the individual teams (many of which are losing money) and the sport as a whole.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Owners expect to lose hundreds of millions of dollars during the two-week break; players, more than $300 million a month as long as they don't play. Neither side garners sympathy at a time when people who are employed are being forced to take paycuts and slashing of retirement and healthcare benefits.

But the big losers here are the fans—who remarkably continue to go to games despite the high ticket prices—and the other employees associated with professional basketball. These aren't the folks making millions of dollars a season. These are people who park cars, sell hotdogs, and take tickets. It is their jobs that are being imperiled because the millionaires and billionaires (or, "job creators") are fighting over sums the lower-compensated workers don't even dream of.

The bigger problem may be exposed and perhaps even ameliorated if the lockout continues well into the season. There is simply too much money in professional sports, and it is undermining the positive values that athletics can provide. There was a time when a baseball player was known for how many hits he had, not for how much money he was being paid. "Success" in sports is sadly defined increasingly by the size of the contract instead of the speed of the run to the endzone. So the NBA owners and players should be careful how long they keep fans waiting. They might not be there when the NBA decides to come back.

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