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NBA players should accept pay cut, get back to work

So the NBA announces it is canceling the preseason, and my first thought is a question.

The NBA had a preseason?

So the NBA announces it is on the verge of canceling the first weeks of the regular season, and my first thought is a fear.

Oh no! We might miss watching the Minnesota Timberwolves lose by 30 points to the Lakers on a Tuesday night in the middle of November!

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The unspoken secret about the NBA lockout is that, because of the economic and talent disparity the owners are trying to fix, the average fan’s attention is locked out until after the Super Bowl.

The league might be missing games, but we’re not. Opening night is cool, the Christmas Day spectacle is neat, but does anybody really pay close attention until after the All-Star game? The NBA playoffs are the best in sports, but that’s only two months in a season that lasts eight months, and that only works for the handful of teams that have a chance to win it all.

One of those teams plays in my town, which is also home to one of the best players in NBA history and the league’s most exciting young player. In the last two years, my town has hosted an NBA championship game, an NBA All-Star game, and one memorable moment when that exciting young player executed a slam dunk over a car.

Nobody loves the NBA like Los Angeles, yet do you know how many people I have heard openly worrying about the lockout? One, and even my crazy Lakers fan neighbor just shook his head, said he hoped they would return for the playoffs, and kept watering his lawn.

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The NBA is not the NFL. Heck, right now, amid the major leagues’ thrilling late-season rush, the NBA is not even baseball. Yet the NBA’s average player salary of about $5.1 million equals the average salary of those two sports combined.

The NBA players need to do the math, listen to the yawns, and look in the mirror.

The NBA players need to take a pay cut and go back to work in a sport that will be healthier because of it.

Under the old agreement, the players were making 57% of basketball-related income. After Tuesday’s negotiating session, the owners were talking about giving the players 50%.

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What happens if the players take that horrible pay cut? They will still be the highest-paid team athletes in American pro sports. Some of them will still make millions to spend their lives on a bench. The only thing that might radically change is that more owners might have more money to field better teams, increasing parity and popularity while ensuring survival.

The players are thus far refusing to take anything less than 53% because they say that, in the NBA, more than in any other sport, the stars are bigger than the league.

It’s true that no sport generates glitter like the NBA. It’s true that only in the NBA can one single player on one single night — Kevin Durant on a February Friday in Phoenix — convince thousands of fans to buy tickets to that game.

But the stars bigger than the league? Not even close. The stars can’t exist without the league, which not only pays them the money to ensure the security of their families’ future generations, but also provides them with the stage to make even more money in endorsements and business ventures.

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If the stars are bigger than the league, then how come the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony don’t just spend the rest of their careers playing in those barnstorming playground games that have become so trendy? How come no major television network has paid for the rights to televise those games? How come no major sponsors have rushed to be associated with those games?

If the players are bigger than the league, then how come Kobe Bryant has to go all the way to Italy to find a place that can pay him to play basketball during the lockout? Why can’t he make $3 million playing pickup games on a court somewhere in Newport Beach?

As a journalist who hangs out in all sorts of locker rooms and clubhouses, I enjoy dealing with NBA players more than any other athletes. They are often accommodating, sophisticated and surprisingly unaffected for being some of the richest folks on the planet.

However, in this case, they are wrong. For all their high-flying brilliance, the NBA players need to come back to earth and get back to work.

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke


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