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NBA Lockout: Chinese Basketball Association Takes Stand

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Last week, news broke from a source within the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) that the league was planning on instituting two controversial new rules, which read as follows: 1) Any NBA player that signs with a CBA team during the lockout will not be released from his contract, meaning that he won’t be allowed to return to the NBA mid-season if a deal is reached and 2) Teams can sign no more than one current NBA player.

Besides the obvious logistical problems with the rules (FIBA already ruled that players under contract with an NBA team must return to the states once the lockout’s over), they represent poor strategy for the only major basketball league in a country of 1.4 billion, many of which are NBA fans. Yao Ming has retired and Yi Jianlian is terrible, so the NBA needs more of its stars to become popular in China in order to grow the game.

And the rules wouldn’t just hurt the NBA’s overseas exposure—they’d prevent current NBA fans in China from getting a chance to see real, live NBA players, a rare occurrence in the Far East. It is for this reason that the CBA is my Rogue of the Week, just edging out Michael Beasley, who shoved a fan in the face at an NYC pickup game (perhaps the TWolves should ship him off to the CBA as punishment).

Throughout much of its history, China has sought to close its doors to the world, and while the current leadership has taken strides to remedy that, when I look at these rules it’s hard for me not to think back to an older China that resented the influence of foreigners. By making this move, the CBA is probably denying itself revenue and denying the fans who want to see the kind of talent that they would normally have to search YouTube for. While the CBA and its supporters have some valid arguments, at its core this is a move made to restrict freedom, and I try not to support such moves if I can avoid it. It just doesn’t make sense to me that the one time NBA players might willingly come to China, the CBA would do its best to alienate them from coming.

That’s not to say that the arguments in favor of the potential move don’t have some merit. Supporters argue that bringing NBA players over doesn’t help to grow the Chinese game and that it would disrupt team chemistry should they have to return to the states midseason. Others argue that the cost-benefit analysis simply doesn’t work, stating that NBA players simply wouldn’t generate enough revenue to offset the cost of their contracts. I think it’s a good thing that the CBA wants to grow its own brand of basketball, but I really don’t think half a season with NBA players is going to throw much of a wrench into their plans.

It’s also noble that the league would look to protect teams from handing out contracts that have the potential to hamstring teams financially (imagine how different the NBA would look if David Stern stepped in and put restrictions on what types of contracts teams could dole out), but again—it will affect them for half a season, one season tops.

Stupid NBA Move of the Week

The NBA filed a pair of claims a week ago against the NBPA. The first one was an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, the second a lawsuit in federal district court in New York. Here’s what you need to know about each claim:

Unfair Labor Practice

The NBA is pissed that the NBPA is considering the same tactic—decertification of the union—that the NFLPA tried during their lockout. Decertification is a necessary step for the union if it is to pursue an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA. Should the players win that lawsuit, they could receive a ruling that would prevent the owners from locking out the players. While it would not solve all the league’s underlying problems, it would certainly help the players and move us closer to basketball in 2011-12. So the NBA went ahead and filed a claim to the NLRB before the union decertified, saying that the NBPA isn’t bargaining in good faith. I don’t have insider info on the talks, but as far as I can tell, neither side has bargained in particularly good faith so far, but it seems as if the players have been more willing to compromise than the owners.

The owners have refused to even listen to most of the players’ offers so far, even though the players have demonstrated that they are willing to lower their take of the Basketball Related Income. The players recognize that they got a good deal in the old CBA, and that it would be fair if they reduced their split of the income, but owners want the players’ share cut so dramatically that solid negotiation is impossible at this point. The players could improve their offer, but the NBA has to show that they are willing to make some concessions as well. While decertification isn’t exactly a step forward in CBA talks, neither is filing a pair of claims against the NBPA. The NBA can’t claim that the NBPA isn’t bargaining in good faith and then go ahead and file a pair of claims against them—that’s going to waste just as much time as decertification would. It’s hypocrisy and deception from David Stern and the owners, but it’s nothing that we haven’t come to expect.

Federal District Court Lawsuit

However hypocritical, the first claim was at least defensible from an NBA standpoint. The lawsuit in federal court, though, has the potential to destroy the league, atomic bomb-style. It seeks federal approval of the lockout, ensuring that the NBA retains the upper hand in the CBA negotiations. The NBA also asked the court to void all contracts in the event of decertification, meaning that every player would immediately become a free agent. Let that sink in. Every single player would be a free agent. If you thought the NFL’s abbreviated free agent period was crazy, imagine what it would be like if every player had to find a new team. The NBA as we know it would cease to exist. I don’t care that this will likely never happen. For the NBA to even entertain such a thought is pure lunacy.


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