Finally, a certifiable win for fans

September 13, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

So, the NBA players have spoken. They don't want to be like Mike, after all.

To which there is only one simple and obvious response:

Good.

No one cared about the complicated labor dispute that threatened to kill the 1995-96 NBA season.

There were lots of issues, money and angles involved, but all anyone other than David Falk and Michael Jordan cared about was whether there would be a season.

Like we should care about anything else?

Anyway, the answer is yes, there will be a season -- or so it seems with yesterday's news that the players had voted to keep their union intact, effectively ratifying the collective bargaining agreement to which their leadership and the owners agreed last month.

Basically, the players said they didn't want to decertify their union, sue the league and kill pro basketball for goodness knows how long.

For once in this decade of greed, the fans won one.

No one cares what the deal will mean down the line, which side won, who gained or lost power and leverage. It's not like anyone is going to go hungry in a league in which everyone is getting rich beyond their wildest dreams.

True, Joe Smith's first contract probably just got whacked from $60 million to $10 million, but that's his tough luck, if you can call that kind of luck tough. Maybe the next generation of college superstars will stay where they belong. In class.

Anyway, this conflict was about a lot more than one player. The decertification movement, led by Jordan and Patrick Ewing and a few powerful agents such as Falk, was just a crock of cynical, self-serving hooey. Just the rich trying to get richer at the expense of those below them on the economic ladder.

And the fans.

The collective bargaining agreement on the table will raise the average player's salary from $1.7 million to $3 million by the turn of the century. Yet Falk, who represents Jordan and Ewing, criticized it as "a major step backward."

Try not to laugh.

The real reason the agents were upset enough to attempt a revolt was that the deal includes a cap on rookie salaries, which have gone though the roof recently and made a lot of agents very rich.

Too bad.

I'm not a salary cap guy at all, but NBA rookie salaries clearly needed capping. It doesn't make sense to give all the big money to unproven talent. Whatever happened to the concept of salary for performance?

The other reason the agents were upset was that the deal closes a few cap loopholes, so negotiating those huge "super" contracts won't be quite so easy.

Too bad.

Those "super" contracts will still be signed, you know they will. And the simple truth is that the deal on the table is an excellent one for the vast majority of the players.

The players are getting a whole new revenue stream, splitting $25 million a year in licensing fees as opposed to $500,000 last year. The minimum salary will increase $50,000 for undrafted rookies and $25,000 for all others. Benefits will increase to $49 million in the last year of the contract from $34 million this season. They get an increase in revenue sharing from 53 percent to 59 percent of defined gross revenues.

Most importantly, the luxury tax that NBA commissioner David Stern sought -- teams would have paid for going over the cap -- is not in the deal. The owners wanted it, wanted it badly, but didn't get it. They lost to the players in these negotiations. Yet the Jordan faction still wasn't going to play ball?

Try not to laugh.

Even if there is an unseen smoking gun in there somewhere that will hurt a lot of players down the line, how bad can it really be? Harmful enough to make the players walk out on working conditions so incredibly comfortable? Get serious.

Fact is, Jordan actually was a winner yesterday even though his side lost and he won't go down as Cesar Chavez in high-tops. Killing the NBA season would have been the all-time public relations disaster, for Jordan as well as the league. He's lucky he lost.

The fans are fed up with strikes and lockouts, as the current baseball season demonstrates. And basketball, as popular as it has become, isn't woven into the fabric of the country like baseball. An off-putting basketball strike would have cut deeply into the gains the league has made.

Fortunately, only some 31 percent of the union (134 of 422 members) voted as Jordan, Falk and Ewing wished.

Good.

Not that the union and the league officials are good guys, either. Simon Gourdine, the union's executive director, used to work for the league; those who suggest he's in the league's sway probably aren't off base. And reports that Stern bullied and cajoled the players into voting for the union probably aren't exaggerated.

All of which gets us back to the original point: Who cares who won and lost, or what it all means?

The only thing anyone cares about is that there is going to be an NBA season.

And that is all we should care about, unless the players are willing to swap paychecks with us.

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