As NBA insiders go, few are as well-versed in the league’s goings-on at every level from the top down than David Falk, hero to bald men nationwide and an agent in the league for more than 35 years. At his agency’s height in the mid-’90s, he was representing Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo, among many others. So suffice it to say that if he’s got an opinion on the business side of the NBA, you should be paying very close attention.
What Falk does have to say is not very good. At all. According to the NEW YORK TIMES, there’s a storm brewing when the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2011: the players already don’t like the deal, and the owners are going to want to trim way back as their franchises hemorrage money. The result: EXTREME
“I think it’s going to be very, very extreme,” Falk said, “because I think that the times are extreme.”
How extreme? Falk said he believed Stern, the commissioner, would push for a hard salary cap, shorter contracts, a higher age limit on incoming players, elimination of the midlevel cap exception and an overall reduction in the players’ percentage of revenue. And, Falk said, Stern will probably get what he wants.
This is bad, bad, bad news; when the owners collectively decide that it’s no longer worth their time and effort to field basketball teams, then the bubble has not just popped, it has burst into flames and incinerated everything on it, including the players, fans, and cheerleaders (oh god, not the cheerleaders).
Falk’s advice to the players is to capitulate to just about all of the owners’ demands; they hold all the leverage at this point, since it’s questionable whether it’s in their best interests at all to maintain franchises in the NBA as they’re currently structured. While it sucks for the players to see their salary structures, for the most part, slashed and burned, it’s a necessary correction after years and years of inflated contracts for middling veterans (Wally Szczerbiak, we are staring directly at you on this one).
This sort of impasse hurts fans the worst. Most of us just want to sit in a gym and watch these guys play some ball instead of reading about fights over money. It took
steroids a magical home run chase by two steroided gallant batsmen on steroids to bring baseball back after years of bitter avoidance from fans after a strike that ended one season. If the NBA shuts down for much longer than that, there may not be a saleable product when they get back on the hardwood. And that would be a more devastating catastrophe for American sports than any economic downturn could ever create.