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The NBA Lockout

Basketball Players Are Still Laborers

by DAVID MACARAY

The on-going labor dispute between NBA (National Basketball Association) owners and the players union is continuing to draw national attention, as each passing day without an agreement puts the league closer to not having a season at all.  Indeed, David Stern, the NBA Commissioner, has already announced that part of the season has been irrevocably lost due to the lockout.

If Stern hadn’t prematurely hinted, some months ago, that many of the more militant owners were already willing to jettison the entire season if they couldn’t get some big-time cost relief, his announcement would’ve had even more impact.  As it turns out, lots of people—fans, players, sports writers, agents—already half-expect the season to be scrubbed, which would be unfortunate.  But that’s how far apart the parties seem to be, and that’s how much pre-negotiation, doom and gloom hype there was.

As in all such disputes, the main issue is money.  And that seems bizarre, given that neither side is exactly hurting for dough.  Indeed, the players and owners are in the highest income brackets known to man.  Most of the players are millionaires and most of the owners are billionaires.

According to InsideHoops, a player who’s completely untested, who’s not spent one minute in the NBA, who wasn’t a stand-out college player, who wasn’t even drafted, but who was lucky enough to get signed by a team, makes a minimum of $473,604 per season.  He could ride the bench all year, play a grand total of 50 minutes for the whole season, and still earn that figure.  And of course, if you’re Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, we’re talking tens of millions.  Not too shabby.

For those sports fans who’ve been paying attention to the negotiations and are trying to decide which side to root for—the ungrateful players or the greedy owners—let me offer some unsolicited advice.  Root for the players.  Root entirely for the players.  Why?  Because they’re the only ones with the talent.  Simple as that.

As crazy and inflated as entertainment (sports, music, TV, movies) money is (didn’t Lady Gaga make $100 million in 2010?), if we have to pay somebody exorbitant sums of money, it may as well be the ones with the discernible talent.  Otherwise, with all that money being generated, we’re going to be paying it to people without any talent….and that’s not only wrong, it’s offensive.

What skills does it require to be a professional basketball player?  Answer: vertical leap, quickness, shooting touch, vision, stamina, court instincts, determination and perseverance.  What skills does it take to be an owner?  Answer: wealth.  Which means the Koch brothers could be team owners.  All they’d have to do is buy themselves a team.  But who’s going to be impressed with the Koch brothers becoming team owners?  Who’s going to care?

Can we all agree that there’s way too much money available for movie stars, recording artists, and professional athletes?  Can we all agree that entertainment money is ridiculous, that it’s absurd, that it’s nutty, that—given the poverty in the world—it’s an outrage?  But outrageous or not, let’s make sure, at the very least, that most of that money goes to the people who “deserve” it.  Those with the talent.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.  He can be reached at Dmacaray@earthlink.net