The parallels that can be drawn between the current NBA lockout and what happened in the NHL in 2004-05 are way too similar.
In 2004, Gary Bettman's buzzword was "linkage." The NHL, by virtue of over-expansion and a boring brand of hockey left over from the trapping era had put the league on thin ice with the U.S. viewing public. So much so that hockey's hiatus helped develop a new TV success story: Poker.
On Wednesday, the NBA dismissed a New York Times report that questioned the league's claims of financial distress. Sound familiar, like something that may have involved Bob Goodenow?
But back to what started it: The impetus for the lockout was the owners deciding the league's current financial system was unsustainable. Bettman wanted a link between revenue and salaries. And that's exactly what is happening in the NBA today. While NBA revenues are higher than the NHL's by virtue of a bigger marketplace and a more lucrative U.S. TV deal, it's the basically the same story.
The system's broken, and it needs fixing.
But like NHL owners before them, NBA owners deserve no sympathy. They're like people who fail at quitting smoking (minus the genuine effort and likeability): They can't help themselves. When it comes to moronically spending money, another sense is controlling them. Nobody forced these guys to give Joe Johnson $119 million US or David Lee $80 million. Can you blame the players for taking it? Of course not.
So the owners must now rewrite the rules to protect them from their own instincts.
The trouble is, NBA players are rich enough to say "hell no."
One aspect of the NFL lockout is that a vast majority of pro football players -- average, non-star players -- do not make money like Tom Brady. The NFL minimum is $325,000 US. This is a great annual salary for somebody working behind a desk for a decade at SNC Lavalin, but for a player in a violent sport with an average career length of four years, it doesn't make them rich.
And while the NFL lockout appears nearing an end thanks to negotiations between the NFL and it's PA, you can't help but think the rank-and-file cornerback or guard had something to say about this within the union -- that being, 'Get us back to work, I can't afford to lose a season.'
With the NBA, this isn't going to happen. The average NBA salary is more than $5.3 million a year, the highest of the North American professional sports leagues. That alone gives the players more reason to dig in their heels against David Stern's designs on cutting their take of basketball revenue and instituting non-guaranteed contracts.
The difference between the NBA now and the NHL seven years ago is basketball is coming off one of the best post-seasons in recent memory. In 2004, the NHL was on life support in many U.S. markets -- although it rebounded in some of those cities thanks to the new era of Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and others.
But the overall public happiness of seeing the Miami Heat lose the NBA Finals conceals the bigger issues in basketball. Like hockey in 2004, you can make the case to contract two or three NBA teams today. Half-empty arenas are commonplace in various southern markets.
While the talent level in basketball is the highest it's been in decades, there's a chasm between the top talent and numerous other players raking in tens of millions -- some of them not having any business being in the league. Add that to the recent habit of stars forming cliques in big or sexy markets, and it's obvious where the backlash of some fans is coming from.
Most of the past year, without really thinking about it, I assumed we'd end up with a 1999-style 50-game season, or according to Phil Jackson, the Spurs' "asterisk" year.
But reality seems to be setting in now. Charles Barkley said last week that the season is all but gone. "It's going to get ugly," he said.
Sounds like 2004-05 all over again.
If you missed it, check out LeBron James knocking out youngster Evan Mahoney
at his basketball camp in New Jersey last week. It's worth noting James didn't confiscate this video.
(Photo courtesy Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
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