NBA fans looking to settle bar bets or simply reminisce about their favorite team's playoff run this spring will now have to search a bit harder.
When the NBA's collective bargaining agreement expired, not only the players were locked out. A wrinkle within that agreement meant that NBA teams' websites and nba.com had to remove most images, videos and other likenesses of current players. Fans now see pages advertising a team, but no stories about the players on that team. Cheerleaders and auditions for cheerleaders are featured on some websites, but no stars.
"It comes from the fact that the players allow the players' association to license their images because it is such a huge source of money," said Ed Edmonds, a sports law professor at Notre Dame. "The licensing is under the control of the union. They can say that is no longer available."
Before the change, every NBA team website featured at least one All-Star or at least one 2011 draft pick. The teams used these images to help fans get to know the new players, market ticket sales and glamorize the sites in general. Now, those spaces are occupied by mascots, logos and cheerleaders.
The links to a player's biography or results from last season now direct readers to a dressed-down nba.com. The site's homepage initially featured no links and was split into two columns. One addressed the lockout and the other discussed the WNBA. It has been updated since, but still without any images or stories of current players.
The player biographies on the league's website still stand, but without pictures of the players. Team logos now reside in place of the faces of Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin and all of the league's other players.
"It comes as a surprise to me, and I'm not sure that it has to be that drastic," said Gabe Feldman, an associate professor at Tulane Law School. "Maybe they are being over-careful here, but I think just as other websites and news outlets will continue to use the NBA player images, the NBA websites will likely have some right to use them."
As long as the lockout lasts, though, it appears that in place of dunk reels and NBA Finals montages, fans will find images of charity events headlined by coaches and general managers and extensive biographical information about team mascots and cheerleaders.
"It's one of the things that doesn't have a huge consequence," said Larry Coon, an Irvine-based expert on NBA collective-bargaining and salary-cap issues. "But it is certainly something people will take notice of."
The NFL locked out its players in March, but its website is still filled with videos of touchdown celebrations and news updates. Why? The NFL negotiated its licensing deal separately from its CBA, thus sidestepping this issue.