As you while away the days of summer, you may not be aware that America is in the midst of a seminal labor dispute. On one side, the not-so-invisible hand of oppressive capitalists Hell-bent on making money off the labor of exploited minorities. On the other side, the callused and trembling hand of the proletariat.
On June 29 the National Basketball Association team owners, by a vote of 27-2, announced a lock-out. The current collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners had expired. The players made one offer for a new agreement; the owners made four unsuccessful counter-offers. Deadlock. In the great tradition of American labor-management relations, each party is suing the other.
The owners say they are losing money. National Basketball Association Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik says that last season, 97-98, "for the first time in maybe 14 or 15 years, the league as a whole, with all 29 teams taken together, was actually unprofitable." According to the NBA Players' Association only four individual teams actually lost money last season. (They happen to be located in Washington, Los Angeles, Denver, and San Antonio.)
While the league and the players disagree over how many teams are actually losing money, one thing's for sure; none of the players are. In 1996 demi-God Michael Jordan was paid over $30 million. Dikembe Mutombo, who gave up a promising career as a nuclear physicist to play hoops, made over $8 million. Latrell Sprewell, a leader in friendly labor-management relations, made $7 million, as did Otis Thorpe of the Detroit Pistons.
Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets made $9,655,000 during the 96 season, slightly behind the $11,250,000 pulled in by Reggie Walker of the Indiana Pacers. Shaquille O'Neal made L.A. style money of $10,714,000 in 96. In Miami, the heat was on Alonzo Morning, who pulled in $9,380,000. But the real magic was in Orlando, where Horace Grant received $14,857,000. And the list goes on. Of course, those numbers are just chump change compared to the $125 million multi-year deal that Minnesota's Kevin Garnett signed last year.
You may want to review your compensation package and see how you compare to your favorite NBA star:
- First of course, would be the question of hours-on-the-job. NBA players are required to work a solid 2-4 hours per day during the season. Of course, during games, most of them spend most of their time resting on the bench.
- Vacation Time: 6 months.
- Recognition for high performance: When you write a really solid interoffice memo, do your co-workers jump to their feet and applaud wildly? When you enter your office in the morning do thousands of onlookers chant your name? And, if not, why the Hell not?
- If you attempt to strangle your boss, not once but twice, do industry arbitrators insist that you keep your job?
- When you travel on business, do you fly in private jets with custom interiors?
Like the novel "Vanity Fair" this is really a story without a hero. NBA team owners tend to be very wealthy men in search of a high-profile play-toy. One could easily argue that if the owners choose to pay astronomical salaries to young men to play a child's game, they have no one to blame but themselves.
Worst of all, owners do their best to shift the cost of their hobby businesses to taxpayers in the form of subsidized stadiums, taxpayer financed loans, and various other sophisticated forms of stealing. All the same, it appears that at least eight of the NBA owners are willing to let the next season pass them by if labor issues are not resolved to their satisfaction. Those eight teams may make more money, or lose less, if there is no 98-99 season.
The major issue dividing labor and management, as it so often is, is salaries. Currently, players are guaranteed at least 48% of all league revenue, but last season they actually took home $950 million, or 57% of all revenue. That left 43% for incidentals like administration, coaches' salaries, marketing and advertising, stadium and facility rent, utilities, insurance, and last and probably least, return on investment.
One of the key issues from the players' union point of view is the league's middle class. Now, when you think of middle class you might think of two working parents, two kids, a household income of $35,000, and two weeks off each year.
In the NBA the term "middle class" has a slightly different meaning, and refers to those players, about 110 of them, making less than a million dollars a year. (The truly down and out, about 60 of the 110, make the minimum league salary of $272,500.)
The Players' Association, in the great tradition of unions, would like to see more money transferred from young superstars to the, relatively speaking, older have-nots. This process has already begun, as the first player taken in the 1997 draft, Tim Duncan of San Antonio, made a paltry $2.9 million his first year in the league. Shaquille O'Neal, the first player taken in the 1992 draft, made $3 million during his rookie season. The owners "are saving money there," Players' Association director Tim Hunter said. "This is a great deal for them." Hmmm...
In any event, it's clear that there's a great deal of suffering going on in professional basketball, and we're almost moved to tears by the situation. The last time we felt this much sympathy for the proletariat was when we read "The Grapes of Wrath."
If you also sympathize with the oppressed and downtrodden, you can make your support tangible, and participate in one of the great struggles of American labor, by sending your check to:
Hoopsters of the World Unite
Care of NBA Players Association and The Outrage
1800 Diagonal Road
Alexandria, VA 22314
Remember, you have nothing to lose but your chains!