PHILADELPHIA – The NBA owners are poised to wipe out the entire 2011-12 season because too many teams are losing big money and the two sides are hundreds of millions of dollars apart, far too much of a difference to make up before the start of the season, suggests ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.
“The owners believe that the business structure of the NBA is just not good moving forward,” Smith said after sitting on a panel during the National Association of Black Journalists conference. “The NBA is a little bit different because the owners claim that 22 of the 30 teams have lost money. Their thing is that 22 of those teams lost $450 million. Eight of the teams made $150 million. That is a discrepancy that ultimately totaled $300 million in losses for the league last season.”
Unlike the NFL owners, the NBA owners opened up their books and showed the NFL Players Association that they are losing money and need to make drastic cuts in player expenditures over the next decade, Smith said. Furthermore, the costs associated with buying a franchise have skyrocketed, even for the non-iconic teams, putting owners at a severe disadvantage financially.
“Now you got owners who are paying $300 million for a franchise. Dan Gilbert purchased the Cavs for $375 million. Golden State, $450 million. They are not seeing a return on their investment. And they don’t have the equity in their franchises like the owners who had the teams way back and have the equity in their franchises,” Smith explained. “Because of that, the hardline owners are willing to give up the season. ‘F— it’, That’s their mentality. And because you have that, that makes their line drawn in the sand that much harder,” Smith said.
There are very few similarities between the NFL and NBA lockout situations, Smith said.
“[The NBA] doesn’t compare to the NFL to me. The NFL was making money. All the teams were making money. I knew they weren’t going to ruin that cash cow, that $9.3 billion industry and projections have them making anywhere from $10 to 15 billion over the next decade,” Smith said. “I knew they weren’t going to mess that up. The players would have been stupid to do it. The owners would have been stupid to do it. And, you also have to remember that for the players, the average salary was $1.8 million, and so in their case they had more of a point. You could hear where they coming from. You didn’t sort of blame the players for the positions they took.”
With exorbitant salaries and owners losing seven-digit dollars, the NBA players are subsequently not accorded as much wiggle room as their NFL counterparts in terms of negotiations. “So if you are the players, yeah, you could hold out and miss games. The problem is, whereas before you had the [NBA] league that wanted to have the season. Now the owners that say ‘f— it, let’s miss the whole season. It’ll save me money if I don’t have to pay these players.’ And that’s a totally different argument. And because of that, that puts the players in a very, very difficult position.”
So, what the fans want to know is this: will there be an NBA season?
“I’ve been on the record saying two things,” Smith opined. “We are not going to miss a game or we’re going to miss the whole year. The [day] they miss games, [NBA Commissioner David] Stern and those owners are going to draw a hard line in the sand and they are going say ‘bump it, we’re going to miss the whole season’ and that’s the problem that [the players] have.”
And with the NFLPA and owners not budging very far in negotiations — Smith said the sides are about a billion dollars apart, both literally and metaphorically — the upcoming season could indeed be in ruins.