Let’s make no mistake about what the owners of National Basketball Association teams want in their negotiations with players: They want to pay less money and make more money.
This is why the Oklahoma City Thunder is not playing right now and might not play the entire season.
The owners want a better money split with players. As of October, according to media reports, they supposedly offered a 50-50 split with players, down from the 57 percent the players negotiated in their last collective bargaining agreement. The owners say they need the extra money for some teams to stay financially viable. But why not simply allow the free market to decide which metropolitan markets can support a NBA franchise? It’s always interesting to watch wealthy capitalists discard the principles of capitalism when it suits them.
But the banter back and forth about the money split between owners and the players is less important than the philosophical question about who is more deserving of all the ticket and television money generated by fans. Players make the game what it is. Owners own and make money. That should be clear to any sports fan.
On the local level, both Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, a Republican, and the editorial page of The Oklahoman have expressed support for the owners’ position. Cornett recently said, “If forced to take a side, I would side with the owners in this deal.” A Nov. 18 editorial in The Oklahoman made this dubious claim about who the fans support in the current dispute:
Most fans have little sympathy for the players in these negotiations when the average NBA salary is estimated at $5.1 million. The median salary, which is a better gauge for the league’s “normal” players, is around $2.3 million. Players in that bracket likely would have approved the deal instead of missing another paycheck.
But how much money do the owners make?
Both Cornett’s and the newspaper’s reaction to the NBA dispute can be viewed as conservative anti-union dogma, but by pandering to the owners the mayor and The Oklahoman risk creating a backlash against players, such as stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. That can’t be good for the basketball business here.
Right now, I think it’s highly unlikely that “fans have little sympathy for the players,” but with a concerted pro-owners media campaign here, helped along by Oklahoma City’s top leader, that could change. It’s difficult to believe a majority of fans would ever completely side in the dispute with local businessman Clay Bennett, who leads Professional Basketball Club LLC, the Thunder’s owner, but it could happen, especially if the season is cancelled.
Of course, the more the players are verbally berated by the power structure here, the more their “star power” declines and that could mean fewer tickets sold and a declining television audience. Will we look back at last year and consider that the glory days of the city’s first major league sports franchise? If so, place the blame on the owners, who will always want more money and seem willing to risk the NBA brand to get it.