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 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 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.


Wednesday, 19 March 2008

March Madness is here!

Filed under: College — Mark @ 15:48

Preface: The internet is full of haters.  It seems as though people spend all day every day spewing hate on perfectly good people who are just trying to make it.  I hope my weblog never depicts me as one of those individuals.  That said, back to business.

The biggest event in college sports beings again tomorrow on CBS.  The men’s NCAA tournament captures the attention of hundreds of millions, and business productivity plummets throughout North America due to college basketball viewership.  Yesterday NPR reported that tournament viewership is so important that employees subjected to a workplace crackdown regarding tourney viewing have opted for unnecessary medical procedures, namely vasectomies, to buy themselves a four day weekend during which they are physically limited to sitting in front of a television set.  It was even suggested that it is better if you have no real need or interest in the procedure, as you can get it reversed next year just in time for the first weekend of action, thus buying yourself four more days of peace from your employer and significant other (I say significant other because although no woman would ever get an unnecessary surgical procedure to watch more amateur basketball, I wouldn’t put it past any man, gay or straight).

Clearly, college basketball is important in American culture.  We all to come together over this annual event, as pundits and fans alike hyperbolize its greatness and hang on every turnover and missed free throw.  Hearing how great it is got me to thinking: why do people love college basketball so much?  A radio commercial I heard the other day had an interesting take – college basketball is BETTER than professional basketball.

Obviously this comment is ignorant and false on its face.  The worst NBA team would destroy the best college basketball team and wouldn’t need to prepare or even employ a coach to do so.  In a best of seven series, even teams like the Timberwolves or Bobcats would sweep UCLA or UNC.  Actually, the quality of play in college basketball is quite poor all things considered.  Offenses are sloppy, decision-making is curious when it’s not atrocious and shooting is laughable.  It’s not really in dispute that college basketball is bad basketball and the NBA is good basketball – so what is the real reason for this notion that college basketball is “better?”

J.J. Redick was a stud at Duke.

The commercial, thankfully, goes on to explain.  The listener is told that, in college, “players care more about the name on the front of the jersey than the back.”  This is true, especially in the case of USC, where they do not print the students’ names on the back of the uniforms.  Yes, college players care about the institution more than themselves, which is precisely why they abandon their school after their freshmen season in favor of NBA glory, or, in some cases, NBA mediocrity.  If they were looking out for number one, I’m sure they would continue to provide the school with free labor for four years while risking career-threatening injury every night.  Instead, they selflessly bolt as soon as the NBA will have (read: pay) them.  Granted, some are not good enough to play professionally, and they often stay to represent their precious “academic institution” for four seasons.  This prompts the question whose answer I believe speaks to the heart of the matter: “why would I value the alleged loyalty of a young man — to an institution to which I have NO affiliation — so much that I would prefer watching him to watching a professional, despite his overwhelmingly inferior talent level and evident lack of experience?”

Wojo Overreacts Again.

Honestly, ask yourself that very question.  Who cares if some kid is loyal to his school and that said loyalty prompts him to try hard?  Is it noble?  If so, is nobility an entertaining component of the game?  College students are annoying in part BECAUSE they love their school so much – why is it different for athletes?  NBA players care about their team as much as college players do.  I’ve never seen somebody play harder than Kevin Garnett (yes, that includes Tyler Hansbrough – sorry to all the drooling pundits in Bristol, CT) and he never went to college.  Let’s call this what it is.  College sucks and college basketball sucks.  College students are annoying and childish.  Fans rushing the court is insufferable and the players aren’t much better.  Adam Morrison cried DURING an NCAA tournament game just two years ago because his team was in position to lose late in the game and he didn’t have faith in his team to pull off a miraculous win.

The reasons people love college basketball are two-fold.  First, college athletes are uncompensated for their labor so there are no instances of young Black males flaunting their wealth, which many Americans resent.  Second, white players play a big role in college basketball. Remember Wojo for Duke in the early 1990s?  The aforementioned Morrison?  His counterpart across the country J.J. Redick?  In the words of Nasir Jones “where are they now?”  Well Redick is on the bench because he can’t play defense or rebound or dribble.  Morrison plays for a historically bad franchise, taking and missing a slew of bad shots every time he gets the chance, which is less and less often as time goes on.  Wojo?  Well not surprisingly he wasn’t quite Association material.

Adam Morrison and coach Mark Few share a good cry.

I’m not going to sit here and scream racism or attribute a particular sentiment to an entire race.  I don’t really care if a person, regardless of his race, prefers to watch someone that reminds him of him.  I seek only to call it what it is.

All the comments from people who “just can’t watch the NBA anymore” are ludicrous.  The NBA is not full of thugs.  Hip-hop has absolutely nothing to do with the NBA (players can’t rap and rappers can’t play and they will all get over it eventually).  The notions that NBA players don’t play defense and don’t play hard are unfounded and uninformed.  NBA basketball is worth watching.  Yes, college kids do try very hard in the NCAA tournament, but so what?  Allow me to quote LaDanian Tomlinson from the new Nike Sparq Training Equipment TV spot: “my better is better than your better.”  Such is the case with the NBA and college.  The NBA’s better – the playoffs – is better than the NCAA’s better – the tourney.  If you like college basketball better, fine, power to you, go watch, enjoy the next month of bliss, but admit, please, the real reasons why.  College kids don’t try harder, they’re not more noble, the basketball isn’t “fundamental” or “pure” – it’s mediocre, but you like it anyway because people that remind you of you actually affect the outcome.  The lower quality of play makes it possible for young guys without a lot of talent or experience to scrap their way to victory and bring glory to their school, which is inexplicably important to the adults who walk around wishing they were still in college so they could have no responsibility and could therefore do more drugs and sleep in until 11 am.

So grab a Pabst, sir, and live vicariously through the man you wish you were as he scraps his way to big man on campus status. I salute you today so that tomorrow you need not lie to me to justify why “college basketball is better.”  No, friends, college basketball sucks, and that’s okay, because you have a right to love it irrespective of reason.  To you, I say “let the madness begin!” though to me, it already has.

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