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NBA's Owners Profit is Reason for Existence
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[i]February 15, 2010[/i]

[i]Sports of The Times[/i]

[b]N.B.A.’s Glamour Weekend Carries Air of Labor Gloom [/b]



[b]For the second consecutive week, a major American sports league held a grand spectacle under the ominous clouds of labor unrest.

On Sunday, the N.B.A. held its 59th All-Star extravaganza here in the cavernous, ultramodern Cowboys Stadium. Last week in Miami Gardens, Fla., the New Orleans Saints capped a fairy-tale season by beating the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.

That might have been the last Super Bowl, and this might have been the last N.B.A. All-Star Game, played under the umbrella of labor peace.

What an intriguing time in sports labor history, with stakes higher than ever and each side attempting to curry favor with the public. Fans have a difficult choice. They’re often torn between loyalty to teams and players, and resentment of the same teams and players for taking them for granted.

Over the years, the leagues have been able to tap into an overriding public sentiment that feels professional athletes should be grateful for being paid millions to play games. Many of the players do, in fact, feel grateful, almost to a fault. The challenge for their union is to get its members to appreciate the unique value they bring to the league.

LeBron James, at 6 feet 8 inches and 250 pounds, moves with the grace and ease of someone a foot shorter. Nate Robinson, the 5-9 Knicks guard, won his third slam-dunk contest. Kevin Durant, a 6-9 Oklahoma City Thunder forward, has quietly become the N.B.A.’s third-best player.

The players feel that without them, there is no game; team owners feel that they take the greatest risk and should enjoy greater rewards.

On Saturday, Commissioner David Stern spoke of the owners’ labor realities: a projected leaguewide loss of $400 million this season, and losses in each of the first four years of the current collective bargaining agreement. A day earlier, the players union reacted to the league’s contract proposal with a war cry.

“You can denounce it, you can tear it up, you can burn it, you can jump up and down on it, as long as you understand that it reflects the financial realities of where we are,” Stern said.

So, which comes first? The owners or the egg?

The players need a place to play and a team to play for; the owners need great players to attract fans and advertisers.

The reality is that fans come to see players play. Last week’s Super Bowl attracted a record-breaking television audience. On Sunday, a record 108,713 packed the new stadium to watch the East All-Stars beat the West, 141-139.

The Super Bowl would not have established a record for viewership, and fans here would not have braved a snowstorm, were it not to see one-of-a-kind players with finely honed skills. And yet there is a perception that there has been a steady erosion of skills among young players entering the league.

The great Oscar Robertson said Saturday: “I think you’ve got overall better athletes who can run and jump. But if you’re telling me that these guys that I’m watching in TV have improved over what happened years ago, I don’t believe it. A lot of these players are better athletes than they were years ago; they are not better basketball players because they can’t make any kind of major contribution to the game. Some of these guys make $5 million a year and can’t get in the game.”

The TNT analyst Kenny Smith, a former all-American at North Carolina and a member of the Houston Rockets team that won consecutive N.B.A. championships, said of this generation: “Better players. The teams are not as good, but much better players individually from top to bottom. They’ve taken a step up; they do things we couldn’t do.”

Alice Knox, whose son Brandon Jennings is a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks, described what she saw as an erosion of skills among young Americans.

Knox carefully shepherded Brandon through the early part of his career and is doing the same for his younger brother, Terrence Phillips.

“Kids are not developing like they used to,” she said, adding, “We’re lacking in college basketball, and we’re lacking in high school.”

These N.B.A. All-Star Games, the N.B.A. season, the playoffs, the last Olympic Games tell a different story. The talent in the United States is better than ever. The game today and the players today are so far ahead of their predecessors that the distance is barely measurable. Athletes do not get worse over the years, they get better.

There is something to be said for honing skills; at the same time, young players are game-ready and battle-hardened earlier than ever.

“Today’s player is getting more skilled,” Dallas Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle said. Carlisle said that when the N.B.A. began to allow zone defenses in 2001, players adjusted by improving skills that allowed them to play effectively against zones.

“Guys had to shoot the ball better because of zones,” Carlisle said, “because of defenses where now two guys can guard the man who doesn’t have the ball.”

The N.B.A. All-Star Weekend is designed exclusively for fun, for players, their friends and families to connect and for the extended N.B.A. family to reconnect.

This year, in a city hit by a rare snowstorm, there has been a distinct chill between owners and players.

On the night many of the players were drafted, the commissioner shook their hands. Now he wants to take money out of their wallets.

There will be a labor fight; that appears to be a slam dunk.[/b]
Tue Feb 16, 2010 5:15 am View user's profile Find all posts by royal1 Send private message
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