x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Love of playing basketball is one thing money can't buy

While explaining the tussle NBA players have with their franchise owners, Mike Tierney hopes they still love a game of basketball.

Miami Heat’s LeBron James holds his son, Bryce, during a charity game in Miami on Saturday. The players seemed to have a lot of fun.
Miami Heat’s LeBron James holds his son, Bryce, during a charity game in Miami on Saturday. The players seemed to have a lot of fun.

Daddy, the big day is almost here, right?

Indeed, son. Have you picked out your Halloween costume? Going with the vampire look this year?

Halloween? Get real, dad. The only costume I care about is my Dirk Nowitzki jersey, Kobe Bryant trainers and Joakim Noah wig. I can't wait to wear it on opening night of the NBA season. Only three weeks away.

Well, it pains me to say there will not be games that night, or for the first two weeks. Maybe more.

No games? What is the problem?

It is kind of complex, but the season is in trouble because the team owners and the players are having a disagreement over stuff like a salary cap, a luxury tax, rules for free agency. Pretty complicated, huh?

Not really. So they're fighting over money?

Well, yes. It all boils down to how they divide the dollars brought in from selling things like tickets and your wardrobe full of souvenirs.

But dad, I read on the internet that players earn an average of US$5.1 million (Dh18.7m) for one season. The average team is worth $369m, so the owners must be wealthy to be able to afford them. It seems like there should be enough cash to go around to make everyone happy.

Out of the mouths of babes.

What are you talking about, father?

Never mind. Unfortunately, when there is so much money at stake, sometimes common sense is replaced by greed. And ego.

Why? Are we not talking about the same game that I play on the school playground during break time?

I wish. You see, the players have convinced themselves that they are more important than the sport itself. Not to pick on, say, LeBron James, but basketball was great when he was in braces 15 years ago and it will be fine when he is in an easy chair 15 years from now.

So, is it the players' fault?

Not entirely. The owners voted in a financial system that they do not like anymore and want to change it by trying to show who is the boss.

Hard to blame the league. It put a tax on the richest teams to try to keep them from signing all of the best players.

But that had about the same impact as price increases at the store on your mother's favourite shoes. She continues to buy them, no matter the cost.

So, the lesser teams do not have any chance to contend for a title.

Also, the owners need a structure that will protect themselves from handing out superstar contracts to just very good players, like Joe Johnson's $119m for six seasons from the Atlanta Hawks. Kind of like putting a lock on the refrigerator to prevent overeating.

Gee, dad, there must be another league with a plan that they can copy.

As a matter of fact, the NBA is envious of professional American football, where almost every team begins the season with a chance to reach the play-offs. Most NFL player contracts are not guaranteed. The income is shared, so competitive balance is maintained.

Sorry if this is getting too technical for you.

Forgiven. I heard that the NFL almost cancelled at least part of its season. If their system is so great, why did that happen?

That, I am afraid, is the world we live in. But we should not give up faith in the NBA for salvaging most of the schedule. The owners now say they are willing to split the revenue 50-50, while the players want 53 per cent - which, to their credit, is down from the current 57 per cent. If the two sides cannot bridge that small gap and take care of the other differences, well, that is more frightening than the scariest Halloween outfit you could wear.

Dad, did you see the video of the practice game that a bunch of stars played the other day in Miami?

Yes, I did. Big crowd. Overtime. Proceeds went to charity. How interesting that they played harder than you get in an NBA All-Star game. They hustled on defence and dived for loose balls.

How much did these players get paid?

Believe it or not, nothing.

Interesting. Just one more question. On the video, it looked like they were enjoying themselves. Do you think they were faking it?

You have discovered the sad truth in this whole mess. If they had to, most of these guys would play for the same wages that your teachers make.

Sounds to me like they miss their jobs.

We can only hope, son. We can only hope.