As in the NFL, the NBA is facing a perilous period of player/owner relations. Threats of lockouts loom over the sport, as the economic stagnation of the country has both sides trying to make sure they aren’t left out in the cold. Here NBA Executive Board member and Oklahoma City Thunder Player Etan Thomas and Nation sports correspondent Dave Zirin speak with NBA Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter.
Dave Zirin: Let me ask you the same question I asked NFL union chief DeMaurice Smith: What are the chances of a lockout
Billy Hunter: Well, I guess it pretty much depends upon how serious the NBA owners and Mr. Stern are about reaching an agreement. I’m sure that they understand that they have at this point presented us with a proposal that they should’ve had no expectations of us actually giving any serious consideration to. So, I don’t know whether its just part of negotiations or if they were serious. If they’re serious, then the probability of us reaching an accord is slim to none.
DZ: What was so repellent about their proposal?
BH: They wanted the elimination of guaranteed contracts, the implementation of a hard salary cap, a reduction of the length of contracts, elimination of all guarantees, a general rollback from players reveiving 57% of the revenue back to about 50%. That would mean imposition of a hard salary cap that would
probably be in the area of about $43-44 million as opposed to – most teams are well over the cap now at an average of about $70 million….If that happened, the top players would see salaries compressed to about 11-12 million a year and we’d probably have a system similar to the one that we had in 1998 when we went through the lockout where at least two-thirds of players – were minimum salary-players.
Etan Thomas: One of the things that really amazed me in speaking with DeMaurice Smith was that the NFL doesn’t show their union their books,
Now we don’t have that same problem. But what happens if we disagree with their numbers or our experts tell us numbers that differ with what they have reported?
BH: Well, if we disagree, we would take the position that we’re currently taking which is that we’re not going to negotiate based on their numbers. They’re not losing that kind of money. As a matter of fact, for the past 12 years, since the lockout in 1998, the owners experienced with the exception of maybe the last year or two – or a year or so ago when we had the economic implosion -about a 12% economic increase in franchise value per year.
DZ: So what can fans do if they don’t want to see a lockout?
BH: I’ll use the example of President Obama who says that he understands what people want and he’s in a position to make it happen but he needs grassroots pressure from the general public. So, if there are matters that concern them that they think the President should take action on, then they’ve got to start a movement, they’ve got to put pressure on him to do it. I adopt the same philosophy in regard to the NBA and basketball that if the fans begin to voice their opposition and express their concern and say that if there’s a lockout and you can’t reach an accord, they’re going to walk away from the game, then I think that creates a problem for both the owners and for us, and it’s something that we have to seriously consider. It took us – after the 1998 lockout – it took 5 years for us to recover to get to the pre-lockout revenue and my contention is, with the economy being like it is, if we were to have a work stoppage, it would probably take about 10 years to get back. I would think that’s something that would clearly get Mr. Stern’s attention as well as the owners, that the league may not recover. Fans may leave and they’ll never come back, and so we have to exercise good judgment, good sound prudent judgment.