Want some good news on the NBA labor front?
I asked David Falk, the agent management would tell you is The Grinch, whether he believes there will be a 1998-99 season and I was somewhat surprised by his answer.
“Of course I do,” Falk said. His belief is certainly not based on the notion that the players will cave, as I had suggested all summer. “If the average NBA team is worth roughly $200 million,” Falk said, “and there is a loss of sponsorship and television revenue, don’t you think each club would lose as much as 20 percent of its value, maybe more? Yes, the players want to play, but the owners don’t want to see their franchises plummet in value. Of course I believe there’ll be a season.”
Ahhhhhhh, I feel a wee bit better now, just when NBA news was starting to get so ridiculous. Just now, there are reports that Karl Malone is so enamored of his new gig as an afternoon radio talk-show host in L.A.--and so upset he wasn’t first made DJ Karl in the Salt Lake area--he’s ready to bail on the Utah Jazz. Malone says he doesn’t want to play for the Jazz, ever again. What’s he been taking, Scottie Pippen pills? Here’s what Malone said Thursday on his radio show: “The pebble has been snatched from my hand, and it’s time for me to leave, like Kung Fu. I must move on. . . . continue to live in Utah, unless I get hit by a beer truck or something.” Huh? Every so often, Karl just goes crazy and you have to turn him off for awhile.
The owners, who will be fined $5 million if they talk about details of the negotiations, aren’t saying much publicly for obvious reasons.
Falk, who is under no such restriction, didn’t blast management at all in a lengthy conversation. “Look,” he said, “this is about making more profits. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But let’s not couch it in terms of trying to help the middle-class player.
“It’s not fun, and certainly there’s anxiety on the part of the players. But to suggest, as the owners have, that the agents are working for a handful of players is ridiculous. We represent about 10 percent of the players in the league, and it’s a cross-section, like a mini-union. Yes, we’ve got players like Michael and Patrick [Ewing] and Alonzo [Mourning] and Juwan. But we’ve got Dennis Scott and Rex Chapman in that middle class, guys like Jaren Jackson, high-salaried rookies like Allen Iverson but rookies who were drafted late like Nazi Muhammad and Jahidi White . . .”
The owners say their plan would redistribute the wealth so that the middle-tier players would be bumped up. Falk says, “The Bulls aren’t going to pay Michael $20 million (instead of $30 million) and give the other $10 million to Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler. It’s a fantasy to expect the players to buy that. It’s never, ever going to happen.”
Falk draws an analogy to the housing market, saying that the higher one house on the block sells for, the better the sales price for all the houses on the block. If the superstars make less money, so will the middle-tiered players.
Falk also spoke about the Washington Wizards’ Abe Pollin, pointing out that everybody in the NBA is aware that Pollin and then-GM John Nash decided to challenge the rookie salary structure by refusing to sign Juwan Howard to the six-year, $24.150 million deal Falk asked for in August of 1994. Having totally misjudged the market and Howard’s value to a franchise constructing a new arena, the Bullets/Wizards will wind up paying Howard $51 million over his first six years in the league instead of $24 million. (He signed a seven-year, $100.8 million contract in 1996.) That’s a $27 million mistake, thus cutting into the franchise’s profits.
“People will perceive this as bashing Abe Pollin and I don’t want it to be perceived that way, but whose responsibility should that mistake be?” Falk said. “Look, I’m an owner of a company. I’ve made mistakes. I signed Michael Jordan to an eight-year deal as a rookie, and long before the final year of that deal he was absurdly underpaid relative to the market. But I didn’t ask for a new set of rules because I made a mistake. In Abe’s case, I shouldn’t even use the word ‘mistake.’ He made a decision that cost just under $28 million. OK, who should be accountable for that management decision? The players?”
Personally, I think this is the first labor situation in sports history where people don’t care about the issues or which side is making a better point. There’s no connection between The Rest of the World and people squabbling over $2 billion. My NBA channels on DirecTV are dark. College basketball is coming. I don’t care how much Buechler makes, or Ewing, for that matter. I hope Falk is right, that there will be a season, and that those of us who usually care, still will.