Wouldn’t a “Player’s NBA” become an Animal Farm?

I am briefly ending my self-imposed ban on NBA writing to address the topic of a shadow NBA run by the players.

Generally speaking, I am all-in-favor of basketball players circumventing the profiteering NBA owners and forming their own league, as proposed by Professor David Berri.  As Berri suggests, the mere (credible) threat of such action would probably end this aggravating labor dispute and get us back to talking and thinking and writing about the NBA, as we ought to be doing.

But would such an idea work?  Wouldn’t a Player’s NBA eventually revert to the same organism as the current NBA, complete with the same problems, just as the farm did in Orwell’s classic allegory Animal Farm?  In other words, at some point, wouldn’t the players, or a controlling faction of players, “take charge” in the best interests of the PNBA, and wouldn’t those same quasi-owners then begin to look and act and talk like the NBA owners look and act and talk today?

I cannot see how such a dystopic outcome could be avoided.  Everything will begin merrily, but at some point in the future a dispute will arise, and a certain group of players will find it in the PNBA’s “best interest” to centralize command and control, in order to make the “hard” decisions that may hurt some group of players (veterans) but will benefit the Players and the PNBA as a whole.

At first the controlling group may be led by magnanimous “player/owners”, whose only concern is the betterment of the Players, just like Snowball the pig in Animal Farm, sought only the betterment of the animals.  But eventually the good players will be overrun and outmaneuvered by a more ruthless collection of player/owners who are driven by greed and their own desire for control.

Inevitably, the new more ruthless group of player/owners will find it necessary to “control Player costs” in order to “insure the survival of the PNBA”.  And in support of this cost-control crusade, they will begin to sing songs from the very same hymnal the current group of owners have been singing from for the last generation.  And the Players would resist in kind, and for the same reasons they are resisting today.

And then we would all be back in the same soup we are swimming in now.  And the Players and the Fans, like Boxer the horse, will have changed the masters of pro basketball out with all new ones who will come to look quite similar to the old ones, and they and we will not have become appreciably better off for it.

And you can bet the beer will still cost $7 a pop.  At least, that is my fear.

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3 Responses to “Wouldn’t a “Player’s NBA” become an Animal Farm?”

  1. Chicago Tim Says:

    If the players start their league as a stopgap measure until the NBA gets serious about negotiating, they would not last long enough to create the same problems with new masters. The problem is that they may not be able to pull it off if it is just a stopgap measure. This is the same reason few of them can get contracts with foreign teams, because most of them want to come back to the NBA as soon as a CBA is in place, and the foreign teams know that.

    If the players make a serious attempt to replace the NBA or force a merger with a new league (i.e., expansion teams) a few years down the line, they would need to contract with someone to run the league, rent the stadiums, manage the teams, televise games, etc., in which case, yes, eventually they would run into the same problems as the present league, if only after an eventual merger with the present league. But then they would have established a nice precedent, and might be able to pull it off again if the NBA took an equally unreasonable position in future bargaining. The problem is that they would have to commit to leaving the NBA even after the lockout ends in order to pull it off, and I’m not sure they are ready to do that.

    And if they tried to bluff about creating a new league and leaving the NBA? Well, how could they pull that off? Who would cooperate with them to pull off the bluff? What would they want in return? How could they prevent leaks that it is only a bluff if all the players are involved? That does not seem feasible. A serious effort might lead to a contract, but it must be a serious effort, and the players must be prepared to leave the NBA before the NBA would take it seriously.

    Maybe if this season is lost and nothing has changed the players would be angry or desperate enough to try starting a new league, and some businessmen might see an opportunity to help them, but I don’t see it happening before then.

  2. dberri Says:

    I would note (and I will write about this again soon), that I envision the following strategy. It is clear to me that this next season is not going to happen (given current negotiations). So the players should contact a non-NBA network (like Fox) and set up a league (with 8 to 10 teams or so). That league plays this season. If it is very successful, they then can expand and the NBA goes away. I would think, though, that even moderate success forces the NBA to realize that the players have a real option. And that forces the NBA to change their negotiating stance.

    As it stands now, the owners seem to think the players have no choice but to give in. I don’t think that is true. But the players have to show the owners it is not true. By committing to a league that will fill in the gap for one year players can
    a) earn money during the lockout
    b) force the owners to change their stance

    From my perspective, there is no reason for the players to not do this in 2011-12. If there is no NBA, the players need to do something. So organize a league, get Fox to televise the games, and give fans something to watch (and us something to analyze).

    As for the problems with a players-league… if it is only for one-year, there isn’t a problem. In the future, it might become just like the NBA (as Ty notes). But I think that is a problem to worry about in the future. For now, I think the players have to seriously think about their negotiating strategy. Hoping the owners will play nice is not much of a strategy.

  3. reservoirgod (@MIA_Heat_Index) Says:

    I don’t think a players-owned league would necessarily resort to Animal Farm governance, but I do think all the suggestions for players-owned leagues would because they’re limited by the same mode of thinking the NBA currently uses, i.e. drafts, salary caps, etc (see the latest post at the WoW Journal by Stuart Anderson as an example).

    If the players think outside the box, however, then who’s to say how it would end? The ending would be unimaginable because it would be completely new territory for fans, media and players alike.

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