Commentary

Bad medicine

NBA owners are feeding players a bitter pill, which will be hard for fans to swallow

Updated: November 17, 2011, 2:09 PM ET
By Ric Bucher | ESPN The Magazine
Kevin LoveKyle Terada/US PresswireKevin Love thinks the economic model the NBA owners want could create locker room havoc.

This story appears in the Nov. 28 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

THE NBA PLAYERS' UNION, in pleading its case during the lockout, has wisely stopped short of drawing an analogy between its members' plight and the economic disparities that have protesters screaming outside banks. After all, how many struggling fans feel a kinship with millionaire athletes in the fight over a $2 billion pie? But maybe the fans should, if they care about the quality of the game.

No matter the specific terms of whatever collective bargaining agreement ends up being signed, players will net a far smaller share of league revenue, and the consequences will run much deeper than shrinking payrolls. The consensus from league coaches and GMs is clear: Building a cohesive team -- the kind that fans will want to pay to watch -- will be harder than ever.

The NBA is unique compared to other pro leagues in that one superstar can make a team a box-office draw, if not win it a title, so owners will continue to lavish cash cows like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James with huge salaries. But a more penal luxury tax will mean less money for everyone else. The gap between the NBA's 1 percent and 99 percent is all but guaranteed to grow. The result? Supporting casts that are disgruntled and jealous­ -- and more pressure on a star to prove he's worth every dime of his monstrous salary. Just imagine the selfish play that will follow.


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Ric Bucher

NBA Reporter, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer