Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lessons Learned from the 2011 NBA Lockout


One of the recurring themes from the recently (tentatively) ended NBA lockout was that both sides would use the lessons learned from the 1998-99 lockout and apply them to this negotiation. That didn't always seem like the case, particularly when marathon meetings led to little progress and both sides almost blew everything up. But they did learn from the last lockout, and they're likely to take the lessons from this lockout and apply them to the next one, either in 2017 or 2021.

So what did we learn from this lockout? I mean, aside from the fact that linking your text messaging to your Twitter account can be a very bad idea.

- "Deadline" is just a word
Throughout this process, we kept hearing about deadlines. The first one had to be June 30, the last day of the previous CBA, when both sides had to get a deal done to avoid a lockout. We all knew that deadline was bullshit. Then there was the October 1st "deadline", the last realistic day to get a deal done and start the season on time. Whoops. There was the mid-October "deadline" to save the season, which came and went without a deal. There was the NBA's "rollback" deadline, after which the clock "stopped", which should have proved once and for all that there was never a deadline at all in this entire process. A deal was always going to get done when it was going to get done (as vague as that sounds), regardless of deadlines set by the owners, players, media or even David Stern's "calendar".

- Both sides were willing to sacrifice a season. No one was willing to sacrifice two. 
We heard from the beginning of this process (and by "the beginning", I mean two years ago, when negotiations started) we heard that the owners were willing to lose the entire season, because they'd lose less money than playing another season under the old deal. We'd also heard the players were prepared to lose the entire season, because they'd saved up for that possibility, and weren't willing to sign a bad deal just to play.

But that didn't mean either side wanted to give up MULTIPLE seasons, and once the players disclaimed the union and filed antitrust litigation, that was a possibility we were squarely staring at. David Stern called it the league's "nuclear winter" and though the commissioner was known for his hyperbolic statements throughout this process, he wasn't messing around. Letting this whole thing play out in the courts would have definitely cost us the 2011-12 season and likely cost us part or all of 2012-13. Even the most hardline of owners had to recognize that losing two (or more) seasons would have done irreparable harm to the league. This thing hitting the courts gave everyone the jolt of common sense they'd been lacking through this entire process.


- "Competitive Balance" was a myth
This wasn't so much a lesson we learned as a lesson we knew all along, but for all the NBA's talk about fixing the system to increase competitive balance, the final CBA -- at least as has been detailed -- really only takes minor steps toward that, if any. Yes, the luxury tax is more punitive, but it still exists. There is still a method by which teams willing to spend can outspend their opponents, and rest assured the smart high-spending teams will hire people to find every loophole possible to exploit. I'm sure the Lakers are already working on ways to work the mini-mid-level, the still existing extend-and-trade and even the new trade exception increase for non-taxpayers to their benefit.

- Negotiations can't happen in public
Because of the massive technology leap between 1999 and 2011, we knew way more about this lockout while it was going on than we did for the last one. However, that wasn't always a good thing. In fact, it seemed the more we got reports of "progress" and things be "close", the worse things actually got inside the room. Then, on the final day of the lockout, things got eerily quiet. They met for hours and hours, and there were no reports on Twitter of... well... anything. Only that they were meeting. Eventually some news of hope snuck out, but that was quickly followed by reports of more Jeffrey Kessler idiocy. It's almost like the sides had been playing the media against the other side all along, and only once things got down to brass tacks did they finally stop leaking any and everything.

- People care
Of all the dumb memes that came out of the lockout (how u, designer handbags, bloggisists, Guy Fieri burgers... and on... and on...), the dumbest had to be the "no one cares about the NBA" parrotting from non-NBA fans. If you needed any evidence that people care about the NBA, then you got it the day the lockout ended. Despite the announcement coming after 3 a.m. on the East Coast, Twitter immediately blew up, and seven of the nine non-promoted trending topics were about the NBA. At a time when most fans probably should have been asleep.

It helps that the NBA is a global game, and many of those fans were tweeting from places where the lockout ending announcement came at a more reasonable time, but that only goes to prove the "people care" lesson even more. Yes, domestically more people cared about the end of the NFL lockout than the NBA lockout, I won't deny that. But I'd argue that outside the United States, that ratio was probably flipped. And just because more people cared about the NFL here, that doesn't mean "no one" cared about the NBA. I'll never understand the need for some sports fans to justify their love of their own sport by trashing another one. Then again, that's really more of a general human behavior than a sports fan one, and I'm not really a psychologist, so I'll leave that one alone.

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