What is the NBA players union doing to help themselves during the lockout?

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Answered by: Robert, An Expert in the NBA Basketball Category
Owners assume all of the risk when it comes to the league, as evidenced by balance sheets that measure in the millions. The NBA players union must know this stalemate will hurt them more than the owners, so why does the argument boil down to percentage points?

Sure, those percentage points represent eight figures in revenue, but the process of collective bargaining doesn't bring revenue for players or owners. It costs them money, delays the timely start of the upcoming season and, most importantly, makes fools of the fans who can't relate to billionaires and millionaires arguing over revenue distribution. In an economy where fans struggle just to come up with $30 for nosebleed seats a few times per season, we have massive egos clashing so that one side might bring home a few million bucks—monies they don't absolutely require to survive, unlike the living expenses that bar most fans from affording seats at games.

Fans are being hurt the most right now, but players are going to suffer more than owners unless they get back to work and fast. Consider the NFL and their recent struggles; the owners drove home their argument about how much risk they assume. NFL players also felt the frustration of being denied access to workout facilities, practice sessions and team meetings. Meanwhile, NBA players have attended invitational games, novelty showdowns that fans are desperately flocking to in anticipation of a long, cold winter with no pro hoops. The separation, then, between NFL players and NBA players is that the talent has other avenues of showcasing their ticket-selling wares.

There is also the matter of secondary revenue streams, here meaning money earned as a marketable athlete. Guys such as Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose represent the young talent pool that will thrive regardless of where the basketball market goes. Middle-aged NBA superstars such as Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are incredibly marketable. The old guard of Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitski and Kevin Garnett pull in massive merch sales most everywhere they go.

Both NFL and NBA players know they're replaceable, but the former require more conditioning since they run a greater risk of injury and have shorter career expectancy. Career expectancy isn't going to stop the top 50 NBA players from making money. However, with 15 spots on 30 teams, that leaves 400 other guys who will have a harder time floating themselves during a work stoppage. It makes you wonder how conversations go when they invite the low-end players to strategy meetings with the players union director Billy Hunter—do they even get a chance to speak? Surely, if there were a voting system that gave each individual an equal voting share, by now the players would have accepted whatever revenue split the union offers, because the owners' initial offer of 43 percent might be much less than the last agreement of 57 percent, but 43 percent is a hell of a lot better than not getting paid at all.

All said, the NBA players union has a lot of work to go if they want to help themselves during the lockout. The players need to consider their position—not as superstars who could function anywhere, but as members of a very select group that entertains fans who feed their salaries. They need to establish union-wide cohesion and accept that owners take on all the risk, so it's time to take a few million less and get back to work. Well, they could go on alienating fans by arguing over nin-figure revenue amounts, but if that persists the league may well lose its audience when fans stop showing up as a way to lock out the owners...though I, for one, doubt that'd last long. Just bring back the basketball.

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