Summing up the lockout: Players or Owners?

When I first heard about the lockout, I knew it was likely if not sure that there wasn’t going to be a season this year. The primary reason being that if there was anything I knew about the NBA, it’s that it’s run by egos. Not money, certainly not basketball, absolutely not the fans, but egos. Large, enormous and constantly yearning for attention. Not that other organizations aren’t. In fact, what I realized after reading so many books and studying players and teams for years, is that the NBA is like any other organization in that sense. Behind a polished facade and a professional stance are two constantly at odds parties – players and owners – who for years hurl things at one another when their backs are turned with everything they can pick up off the floor.

The battlecry for each party is very ego – driven, and it is summed up by the question: ‘Who is more important, the owner or the players?‘ Players will clearly say they are, because they’re the faces that the fans recognize. The fans will always side with players too, because fans know players, not owners. Owners of course, will always negate that, simply because they are the owners, whose money and initiative it was that started the team and formed the league in the first place. Clearly they are the ones who make the rules, right?

The item used to determine who wins this battle as it often is, is money. Money is quantifiable and has specific value. The problem with money however, is that while it can make you materially rich, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are respected, and in the NBA, everyone yearns for respect (I told you this is about egos, remember?). So what do people who earn lots of money but still do not feel respected do? They try to get more money. This is why rich people seem to have a bottomless need for more and more. Money, as it often is, is mistaken as the balm that soothes the ache that is caused by not getting respect.

For example: A player on the bench doesn’t feel so bad about being there because he’s getting paid a ton of money. However, he feels awful about not being on the starting lineup against what he feels is a lesser talented teammate. Whether he is or not doesn’t really matter. The Coaching staff decide these things, but he feels bad anyway. To make up for it, he finds a way to make more money. He gets it either via contract negotiations, a better agent, the owner likes him more, by sheer stroke of luck, whatever. He now feels a little better about being on the bench because ‘I’m getting mine!‘. The starting five player will eventually hear about this, and of course this time ‘he’s not getting his!‘, and will work his ass of trying to right this unbelievable wrong. Vice versa, Ad infinitum.

The history of the NBA is replete with examples of bratty behaviour caused by or in part of players ‘not getting theirs’. In the immature mind of a young player with little experience in the real world, money is equated with respect, and since they’re getting less money than someone else, that means they are being disrespected. Scottie Pippen’s jaw – dropping reluctance to play in the dying seconds of a pivotal Game 3 in 1994 against the Knicks was partly caused by raging jealousy against Toni Kukoc, whom team owners aggressively pursued and which Pippen took as a personal affront. In the excellent ‘The Breaks of the Game‘, author David Halberstam relates a time when recently inducted Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore wouldn’t get off the bench in a game because salary inconsistencies on the team, which had him getting less than others, was so eating him up he ranted about it constantly and demanded to be traded. Unfortunately this had the opposite effect, as his behavior so damaged his reputation that even when Coach Jack Ramsay and others were shopping him around, other teams would bring up his subordination as a way to get a better deal against him and destroying the chances of any deal pushing through.

The problem with people who equate money with respect is that there is ALWAYS someone out there with more money. It is a bottomless well of greed, fueled by insecurity and one – upmanship. In fact, I just read a book that proved even when you have more than anyone else it can also be not enough. The Michael Jordan philosophy on life is clear on this (I finished reading Michael Leahy’s ‘When Nothing Else Matters‘ and I’ll write a review soon) – it’s not enough to dunk on someone, you’ve got to totally humiliate him everywhere else. In the press, the locker room, the practice gym and yes, the bank as well. Even with teammates. In MJ’s case, especially with teammates, regardless of whether they were rookies or not, since they are the ones you are in closest contact with, and whom your ego is constantly up against.

So what does all have to do with the lockout?

I suppose you may be able to surmise which side I’m rooting for by this time.

But before that, I will talk about a shining example of a player that has achieved the success I feel other players, and in fact everyone, should try to emulate.

Normally, you’d say that Magic Johnson would have as much chances of success after retirement as anyone else, and when I say that, I mean very little. The reason why a lot of players do not succeed in business or in their after – playing careers is simple. As superstar athletes they are coddled from high school all into their playing lives. All they need is to concentrate on their game and everything in their lives is handed to them on a silver platter. We all know this, we even yearn for that kind of lifestyle ourselves, and media makes us ooh and ahh at their wealth.

However as any responsible parent knows, having it easy at a young age is the best way to cripple them financially. Growing up without learning how to make a salary fit your spending or dealing with the pressures of making rent results in total oblivion to normal life as we know it – a good reason why a gap exists between poor and rich and especially the ultra – rich. We often have zero things in common with them because they never had to face that kind of challenge.

This is also the reason why so many athletes and celebrities end up heartbreakingly poor after retirement or a career injury. Left to their own devices after the hand that gave them everything they needed is severed, they have zero financial or practical skills and invest poorly if at all.

It is therefore refreshing for me to realize that Magic Johnson has made a success of himself after his pro career, with his part ownership of the Lakers and his ‘Magic Johnson Enterprises’ whose subsidiaries is valued at $700 million.

His success made me realize it IS possible for an ex – athlete to use his fame and fortune earned from playing to make something of himself outside of his athletic career. I’m sure there are many more, but media naturally always focuses on the train wrecks, so I thought just like anyone that the negative was the norm. Instead, he has made a thriving business, and prides himself on giving back to the community he so owes his fame to and which other athletes pay only lip service towards. Here is a man who truly puts his money where his mouth is.

I Am Siding With The Owners, And Here Is Why

I waited a long while before I came out with thoughts of a lockout. A big reason was because I’m incredibly lazy, but partly because I wanted to wait for the real dirt, specifically re what the players really wanted. Like I said, it’s often not just because of money, and more often about respect. And since respect is unquantifiable, we resort to money to settle the issue. This is why it’s so difficult for us ‘normal people’ to fathom why earning 51% (or 57%) of what an organization owns is apparently not enough for the athletes. Heck, just getting millions, even for bench-warmers, is not enough for them. Why? Because it’s about respect, and they don’t feel they’re getting enough of it.

The reason I waited is that I thought that there was some unusual grievance on the side of the players that I was missing or not covered by media. Something specific, such as salary due them not received, or a habit of firing players without due notice, or basically promises by the owners not being kept. Something serious like that.

But in the end, I see nothing like that. In the end I see just another example of greed and immature self – righteousness by people who have yet to understand that respect is inequitable with money. By athletes who do not understand that in a capitalist society, the boss makes the rules. By athletes who are unaware or unwilling to recognize the thousands and thousands of people who rely on a healthy NBA to put food on their table, whom they are doing a disservice to by continuing their strike. By kids with little or no life experience who feel slighted by the fact that they are earning less than what they presume to be their real worth.

And that’s what really gets me, because as a business owner myself, I cannot fathom the amount of leeway Stern et al have already given these athletes, who are essentially their contractual employees. Employees – kids – who have the gall to DECIDE AMONGST THEMSELVES HOW MUCH THEY SHOULD BE PAID.

And here’s why I mentioned Magic Johnson’s success.

I bet the hard line players are those coddled individuals that are used to getting what they want, and are used to getting it RIGHT now. They want big success. Big money, Big fame, Not later, But NOW. Their fans (who usually don’t know any better) say they deserve it. Their families (who agree with more because it’s more for them as well) say they should get it. Their agents (’nuff said) are aching for them to negotiate it.

But as anyone who has put in years of hard work in the real world knows, none of that great fortune if at all possible is available immediately. In real life, You work hard and you work everyday at what you do until you become good at it, and accept the best you can negotiate until such time when you are able to make your own rules.

From all indications Magic Johnson followed those rules. He played great ball, then when he retired he used the great resources available to him to make an even bigger fortune. The athletes need to realize, THAT IS HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE.

Take your SUBSTANTIAL pay for now, and do your best with the time and resources available to you to improve your game and make something of yourself. Or even if you don’t do that, save your money at least, and use your head to invest it carefully. Enjoy your time being a healthy young man doing something you love, live it up but not too much. Buy the stuff you’ve always wanted but always within a budget, do not overdo things, live with an eye on your bank account, but having fun all the time. Without you knowing it, you are helping others as well, because a healthy business brings about other businesses, and a healthy economy employs a lot of people, all of whom are doing the same.

AND BEFORE YOU KNOW IT, good opportunities will come to you, and because you are a smart young man with a head on your shoulders you will seek guidance, assess these properly, make the right decisions and advance your goals. And when that happens, YOU WILL BECOME THE BOSS, and IT WILL BE YOUR TIME. THEN, and ONLY THEN, can you say you’re ‘out gettin’ mine’. Otherwise, sure you’re just another face in the crowd, but humbly, contentedly and happily making the best of what you’ve got until your time comes.

This is the laborer’s mantra. This is what any employee, ESPECIALLY CONTRACTUAL EMPLOYEES, should memorize and take to heart.

That’s what I think of the lockout.