Sports Perspectives by Mark Elder

Friday, 9 January 2009

Collective Bargaining Agreements

Filed under: College, Economics of Sport, New York Sports — Mark @ 16:49

Stuff Sports Fans Like:  #1:  Sports.  End of blog post.  You see, sports fans, unlike “white people,” “educated Black people,” or “white trash people,” which have all been blogged about by fellow wordpress users, do not have an extensive list of likes and dislikes.  We like sports.  We dislike anything not related to sports.  Nothing supersedes sport.  In that way, we’re a lot like heroin addicts.  Now, back to Sports Perspectives…

 Greetings again.  After a brief hiatus we at Sports Perspectives are back in full effect.  There’s a lot to discuss in the wonderful world of sport, so let’s get to it.

 Today’s topic is collective bargaining agreements between Players’ Unions and Leagues.  Notable CBAs include those of the NFL, NBA, and MLB.  The CBAs themselves will be discussed in depth over the course of a few posts during the week.

Collective bargaining agreements caught my attention when NBA commissioner David Stern suggested that it is now time to increase the minimum NBA age to 20, just one year after increasing it to 19.  This is ridiculous.  I hate the idea that gainful employment be denied to perfectly deserving and capable individuals in need of gainful employment.

Now, in anticipation of the comments supporting this seemingly unconstitutional rule, allow me to admit up front that, for 99.9% of the world’s population, this rule is beneficial.  NBA teams will not be responsible for developing prospects, they won’t be caught investing millions of dollars (and valuable draft picks) into high school students that will never develop into NBA-level talents.  This benefits fans, players currently in the league, and of course the Association itself — most of the time.  So given that, why complain?  Consider the following list of players who were under the age of 20 when they began their respective NBA careers:

Kobe Bryant

Lebron James

Tracy McGrady

Dwight Howard

Amare Stoudemire

Shaun Livingston

Kevin Garnett

Tony Parker

Andrew Bynum

Andray Blatche

Al Harrington

Stephen Jackson

Monta Ellis

Tyson Chandler

Gerald Green

Josh Smith

Al Jefferson

Sebastian Telfair

Eddy Curry

Kendrick Perkins

Kevin Durant

Carmelo Anthony

Andris Biedrins

Chris Wilcox

Kwame Brown

Luol Deng

Brandon Wright

Jermaine O’Neal

I could go on,  but I think this is a pretty solid sampling already.  I trotted out this list for a simple reason:  to show that the NBA doesn’t just have  a solid history of under-20 stars (Magic Johnson, at age 19, wins rookie of the year and NBA Finals MVP; Moses Malone leads league in rebounding six times and is a rebounding legend today), it has an impossibly good precedent thanks to under-20 draftees.  Ask yourself: were those players harmed by their entry into the professional game prior to turning 20?  Perhaps some were, but is it the Association’s responsibility to save them from themselves, even at the expense of the development, happiness and livelihood of others?

Forget generalizations, let’s examine specific examples:  Would Chris Paul be the NBA’s best point guard already if he had stayed in school and 2007-2008 was his rookie season?  Would the resurgent Hornets be where they are today if not for Paul and Chandler?  As I see it, the top 6 candidates for MVP in the 2007-2008 season were all drafted under the age of 20:  Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Tracy McGrady — in that order.  Can we really sit here and argue that those players benefited from going to the NBA when they did?  Would 2 years of college education have helped Kobe Bryant?  We’re talking about a man who speaks three languages and, your hatred for him aside, is one of the smartest and most devoted players ever to play the game.

Still, I hear people say “what about the failures?”  What about them, jerk?  Kwame Brown could have gone to school.  Wouldn’t have a degree or anything to fall back on, he’d just have two fewer years of income under his belt, and the income would be a lot lower because he wouldn’t have been a #1 overall pick, he would have been a second-round pick.  Sure, Jordan doesn’t get banished from the Wizards for drafting him, but as I recall Michael Jordan is a man who knows how to land on his feet.  Someone told me he won six NBA championships and made about a billion dollars in the last quarter century. which, all things considered, doesn’t seem so bad for a philanderer and degenerate gambler.  My uncle Louie had a bad habit of gambling and cheating on his spouse, and he has yet to appear on any Forbes list.  His chances are getting slimmer every day his body goes unfound.  Who knew the East River led to the Atlantic Ocean?  Oh, the mob, you say?  Huh.  Back to the lecture at hand:  you can talk about busts who were drafted too young, but college is no solution to the problem of draft busts.  Here is a list of the Association’s Ryan Leaf wannabes who attended accredited institutes:

Adam Morrison

J.J. Redick

You know what, let me pause right there.  How’s that working out?  Oh, not so good?  I hadn’t heard.  No, really, I haven’t heard anything about them since they were drafted, because they’re not good at basketball, and according to http://www.NBA.com they play it professionally for whatever reason.  And they are by no means the exception.  Wally Szczerbiak stayed in school.  Now he’s regarded as a 3-point specialist who makes only one fourth of his wide-open threes and therefore plays  for a new team every season – sometimes two.  I just heard that the Cavs want to trade him.  Honestly, I’d rather have Marbury, despite his failures against Madison – err – at Madison Square Garden.  How are either of these guys in the league right now?  Can’t they go tear it up in Europe like the mighty Earl Boykins?

Speaking of Europe, international players are no different.  High school players are difficult to scout, but so are guys from Turkey, France, and the Czech Republic.  Think about this- Tony Parker and Frederic Weis were both drafted out of France.  Parker was younger (18 on draft day), and was drafted lower, but has won three NBA championships and a host of awards and accolades including NBA Finals MVP in 2007.  Weis, all 7’2″ of him, was literally hurdled and dunked on by Vince Carter DURING A GAME after Vince stole his telegraphed outlet “pass” in international competition; thus leading to his quiet divorce of Eva Longoria, who, like, Jordan, landed on her feet.  Weis cannot be seen playing for the Knicks (who drafted him) but he can be seen on http://www.youtube.com being embarrassed while the world watched in amazement.  My jaw literally drops if I watch that video after having not seen it for a month.

The fact is that you do NOT get a statistically significant increase in likelihood of success by drafting players at an older age.  Understand something about  merit-based, capitalist economy (or some variation thereof, in this case):  if it was good for the player to wait to put his name on the draft board, then you’d be able to convince him to do so without this preposterous and possibly unconstitutional rule.*  For some of these kids, college is worthless.  If they want to go to actually get an education, they can do that after playing in the NBA, and it will be their choice.  That’s how it should be.  If we’re so concerned about these men being educated, then we should let them choose their school based on academics, not based on who has the best basketball coach and who will give them a chance to be seen in the NCAA tournament in March.

The NCAA exploits these young men for free labor and the NBA engages in tacit, lawful collusion by making rules that force players into this ridiculous system of unpaid labor.  The scholarships that students receive, which supposedly make up for the lack of financial compensation, are a joke.  Every player receives the same scholarship, but not all players are equal.  Furthermore, the coaches in college are pathetic.  How do you look yourself in the mirror knowing that you’re earning 5 million dollars in a given season even though your players do all the real work?  Look, I’m not saying coaches should work for free – I wouldn’t (read: couldn’t afford to eat if I did) – but seriously, the players get INFINITELY less than the coaches do.  And please, drop the “free education” bullshit.  As fantastic as it is to get a degree from Cincinnati or Louisville or UConn, these players aren’t even getting that!  Their busy athletic schedule prevents them from putting forth a proper effort academically, and then they leave before they’ve taken any difficult classes anyway.  I’m seriously getting worked up just thinking about this.  This is crap.  Why, after seeing what a resounding success Lebron James has been, would we say “let’s never let that happen again.”  Who is complaining that guys like Lebron are employed as professional athletes? 

Unrelated point – imagine if a Lebron or Kobe played tennis instead of basketball, how do you think Andy Roddick would be doing?  Not so good.  Not so good.  Ms. Decker might have to reconsider her allegiances.  Unless she married him because she loves him or something; in which case he’d be doing just fine.  

Back to college – the system is broken and nobody cares to fix it, it would seem.  People STILL, to this day, tell me that they prefer college basketball to the NBA.  Why don’t foreigners suffer from these moronic allegiances to the less talented, underpaid athletes?  Where are the Londoners who can’t stand how Chelsea’s players make so much money and don’t attend university?  Shouldn’t they play for the love of the game and not get paid?  Doesn’t it ruin soccer for you when players earn more money than you do without having a college degree?  Or is it okay when your country isn’t plagued by the spectre of 400 years of oppression of black and brown people?  (No, I didn’t have to make it about race.  It just is.  Like Ice Cube once said, I’m just CNN, I just report this shit)

To bring it back to where I began:  Stern needs the NBA players union and owners to sign a new CBA that would prevent any team from employing the services of a 19 year-old player.  To me, it’s pretty clear that this is a bad idea.  The benefit to teams is that they don’t have to scout high school talent in earnest, they can let the colleges and universities handle that, and then watch players play in college against better competition for two years or more, allowing the NBA scouts to, allegedly, better project an individual’s NBA viability.  As I’ve mentioned before, that doesn’t work, but that’s besides the point.  The point is actually that this practice is anti-competitive.  Some teams have scouts who can correctly identify young talent, other teams don’t.  The teams who do not employ someone with that skill set will therefore lose, which is fair and just.  Why shouldn’t the well-run organizations who place proper emphasis on scouting and, to a lesser extent, player development, be rewarded for their intelligent and responsible practices?  This idea that somehow we have to account for a small-market team’s lack of financial resources is stupid, but not nearly as stupid as the notion that we must account for a poorly-run organization’s lack of good decision-making ability.  We’ve run through this discussion before.  A classic socialist’s conundrum:  should we compensate for differences in ability as well as differences in financial resources?  The answer, for most of us, is no.  Doing so is inefficient and foolish.  If David Stern is so clever, as media-types seem to believe, then why doesn’t he see that?  I think he does.  Owners who don’t want to pay good talent evaluators their proper due are simply have his ear and may also be fattening his wallet.  I can’t make that accusation officially, but it seems like a logical and objective conclusion to draw.  If you have a better explanation, let me hear it.

 

*not actually unconstitutional, but I had a discussion with a law professor from Harvard (who COULD have been a Con Law prof, I didn’t ask) on the train and he agreed that the rule is bullshit.  No lie.

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1 Comment »

  1. Welcome back Mark Elder. This may be a rough ride, but I look forward to more of your posts.

    Firstly how are you going to leave Dwayne Wade of the list of potential MVP candidates? I nearly stopped reading there, but I’m glad I didn’t.
    I share your frustration over the NBA age limit, but for very different reasons. I do not think that scouting and player development has much to do with it at all. I think that the multi-whatever-million dollar enterprises that NBA franchises are, could all afford to scout players fine, without the intervention of the NCAA, and better develop that talent too. Something that some argue they already do.

    Many commentators have come out to say, and I agree, that the real reason Stern and Co want to have a minimum age requirement, for players entering the league, is to give the NBA a free marketing platform for its future players. Whether these players turn out to be stars or not, read Morrison, Adam, and Redick, JJ.

    It makes a lot of sense; Let young kids to go to college, play a year or more of ball, allow the the general basketball audience to gain a familiarity with and fondness for them.
    And then draft them into the league as ready made stars with compelling storylines for the local market, and those Wednesday night national double headers.

    “The Big Three, Draft pick #30 and the defending champion Boston Celtics versus Lebron James, Draft pick #26 and the Cleveland Cavaliers”. We have a dozy tonight folks!”

    Quite the nifty capitalist trick if you ask me.

    Is it restraint of trade? Yes

    Is it potentially harmful to vulnerable young players, who need to start earning an income on behalf of their families? YES

    Is it done with the educational interests of prospective NBA players in mind? NO

    In my opinion this is a pure Ponzi scheme, even though I do not know what that means, except that it refers to (financial) duplicity of some sort and sounds cool!

    [I can give an example. Jerryd Bayless and Lou Williams.

    I had the good fortune of watching 15 minutes of Lou Williams playing for the Sixers two years ago and thought he had a ridiculous first step, shooting touch, and body control once air borne.

    I heard a lot about last years college freshmen, this years rookie class, so tuned in to watch a lot of all of them last year. In the process I got to see a lot of Jerryd Bayless out in the Pac-10. Once again another killer first step, body control, etc!

    Lou Williams did not attend college, is 20 years old now, and came into the league three years ago.

    Jerryd Bayless is also 20 but was forced to attend one year of college due to the age limit rule. I think he was also at the least NBA bench-ready when he graduated from high school.

    Although he is now one of the primary scoring options for the Sixers off the bench, unless you are a Sixers fan who gets to watch them on local tv, or have by chance seen a Sixers blow out on national tv some time in the last two years, you have probably never heard off or seen Lou Williams.

    Drafted in the first round by the Trailblazers, Jerryd Bayless is at this present time buried on the bench of the Blazers.

    I think both of these guys, Williams more so, are absolute stars. And I would watch a game all the way to the end just for the off chance that one of them would come in and get the chance to exhibit the skills I know they have. I also check the stats of these teams and track the minutes and performance of both these players.

    With the age limit rule, the chance of someone, and we are talking ardent basketball fans here, having a Jerryd Bayless/Lou Williams fixation (following a team/checking player stats/watching to the end) increases exponentially.

    I can swear by Bayless because I watched him for a year in college and even though he is buried on a bench, I am still checking stat sheets for his minutes and contributions just like I do for all players drafted in my five years here.

    But if the league was instead dominated by Lou Williamses like it was four or five years ago, unless I have another fluke 15 minutes (and lets be honest he could have been good that game for any number of arbitrary reasons) I would be watching a bunch of young players that I do not know and cannot connect with.

    It makes pure capitalist sense for the league to parade its future players/stars to us on a national stage before they actually don NBA uniforms…my two cents!]

    Comment by Tetteh — Saturday, 10 January 2009 @ 5:07


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