Mavs Donuts: Could Players Start Own League?
PRE-DONUT: Dirk. And Kaman. For Germany. DJ Mbenga is out there somewhere for Belgium. But this highlight package is all UberMan, if you Dallas Mavericks fans please ...
DONUT 1: As the lack of "news" stretches on, saddled to the back of the lockout's dripping pace, our minds begin to stray, our attention begins to fade and the boredom takes over. In our thirst, we devour events once considered mundane or unworthy of headlines, enter Drew or Goodman league highlights and a cascade of speculation over who is considering playing in what country (a twisted lockout-born version of free agency updates).
Caught in this vacuum, a topic has been raised on multiple occasions in personal conversations as most continue to doubt the legitimacy of playing overseas as a strong strategy to find leverage for players (as a group).
That topic is: why don't the players simply start their own league here in the US?
Interestingly enough, it is an issue we've considered, and almost included in a previous lockout-themed article. However, after a moment of consideration it was quickly left on the cutting room floor. Rather than leave you with a "because I said so" explanation, here are a few of the probable concerns that instantly crept into our minds.
DONUT 2: TV Contracts.
Television is a driving force in any sports league. It can push a trickle of interest into a flood, or vice versa. We know the major players in NBA broadcast coverage: ESPN/ABC, FOX and TNT. With this in mind, can you honestly imagine these broadcasting partners of the NBA being willing to jeopardize their substantial contracts and relationships with the league in order to televise a separate and obviously conflicting league … while also clearly placing their support on one side of the negotiating line? Whether intentional or not, they would be taking a bold stance in favor of the players if they threw support their way in this forum.
My guess they wouldn't be willing partners.
That leaves peripheral stations attempting to carry the league, leading to far lesser payouts for the players involved, and the very real possibility that these stations would create grudges with the big dogs while ignoring the knowledge that they did so for a league bound to crumble once the lockout finds its conclusion. Could they truly be willing to take this level of risk for what would amount to a limited time rental league … accepting what may be minor immediate gains for significant long-term pain?
DONUT 3: Another TV option: Pay Per View.
In an extremely temporary arrangement, when each game arrived with an once-in-a-lifetime feel, this may be feasible, but what happens when it becomes clear specific teams have little to no playoff or championship aspirations? What happens when costs begin to mount on the consumer, a consumer that is likely getting a product inferior to what they've come to expect from the NBA, who's had plenty of time to find its footing, to work out the wrinkles? Would you pay for an inferior product that likely wouldn't directly resemble the teams you've come to support, to care for and perhaps love?
Perhaps, but for how long?
What if such a TV arrangement has a vibe of obscurity? What if it essentially becomes a glorified version of And-1 basketball, where offensive spectacle takes precedence over fundamentals, where defense becomes an aspect of the game for conversations that open with, "well, back in my day …" or "man, do you remember back when …"
DONUT 4: Player Contracts.
The legal ramifications would vary slightly from playing overseas in leagues that have agreements with the NBA, but the odds are that players would continue to be bound to their NBA contracts once the lockout ended. Unless players could sue for the right to void all contracts (an extremely risky move and one that would require near unprecedented solidarity despite a huge amount of uncertainty), would they really want to spend the money and effort required to create a league that would essentially have a death certificate with everything but the exact date already filled out.
DONUT 5: Who owns the league?
Next up, how do you determine who "owns" the league and who is simply an employee of it? Suppose LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard decide to front the capital to start a league. Obviously, they would then be the owners of that league. So, what happens when Deron Williams says he's not playing unless he gets to be an owner too? Then, Brandon Jennings says the same thing … as does Monta Ellis ... and on down the line.
Is everyone an owner that wants to be? Meaning, everyone gets paid the same, or takes an equal share of the profits to their startup contributions? If not, how would salaries be slotted? Would players consider playing for an amount far beneath their NBA contract, and would they be able to find insurance to negate any losses an injury could cause were their NBA team then allowed to void their contract because of one?
What about future stars? Are they allowed a chance to "buy into" the league, or are they forced to earn their way in … and how would they do that?
DONUT 6: Player Costs.
This is alluded to above, but who fronts the money to create the league? Why would they be willing to do so unless they know the league has a chance of surviving post-lockout? It's not difficult to find examples of poor investments by millionaire athletes, but wouldn't the odds favor this quickly becoming another?
When future issues arise, or simply those needed to sustain a sports league (from uniforms, to balls, to nets, to replacing broken backboards, to a thousand other things the NBA has done for so long) is it deducted from the salaries of the players based on the percentage of their ownership … or would intelligent investors someone try to spread these costs over the entire stable of players? If it were spread to all, would those not considered "owners" accept seeing these deductions from their paychecks?
DONUT 7: Rule setters, upholders.
Who settles any disputes that may arise? Can you imagine the players getting out from under the thumb of the owners and David Stern to turn around and hand enough power to another commissioner to properly undertake the job? And, if simply a puppet of the players, what happens when two players have a disagreement?
At a baser level, who creates the rules? Sure, the obvious is easy, such as court size, rim height, players on the court, foul counts, three-point and free-throw line distances and many more we casually take for granted within the constructs of the game.
However, what of all the laws governing the NBA from team names and colors, to drafts, trade rules, contract parameters and initial team rosters. There are a long list of items that would fall into the realm of lawyers simply because they would have to … and then, in a way, aren't we right back into the world of the lockout, only with different parties sitting at the table?
DONUT 8: Venues.
Ok, so the league gets beyond some of the issues above and is ready to start taking their show on the road. Where are they going to play that will truly be beneficial to them? Obviously, the arenas owned or operated by NBA teams are out of the question, and probably the same for any venue that has even the most vague of partnerships with the NBA and those venues. The fear of souring those relationships for what would likely amount to an extremely temporary arrangement would be too much for most.
If you turn to lesser courts, such as high schools or noted outdoor locations, suddenly the ability to earn money is trimmed to an alarming degree. You can't get a strong TV contract and likely have difficulty locating venues with enough seats to make a tour worthwhile, where's the money going to come from?
Would Nike, Reebok or other sponsors risk their relationships with the NBA to help find solutions to this or any of the major issues above? Maybe. But, they'd only accept the risks if they have a sturdy faith that what they are investing in has a chance to survive.
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DONUT 10: The dropped ceiling. Suppose the league is started, what would be the ceiling for player earnings? Remember, you'd no longer have the franchises fans grew up with. Only player allegiances would remain, making this a true test of whether or not fans support their teams or their favorite players. Would you follow the Texas Hoopers made up of an entirely new roster as much as you would the Mavs ... especially if it were harder to see or attend their games? Without the TV contracts and some of other advantages already mentioned or alluded to currently available to the NBA, would a player ever approach the max level of earning presently offered by an NBA contract? Would a star be content to see his guaranteed $20-million-per-year deal washed away in favor of what … maybe a few million without a legitimate guarantee, of a deal that could quickly fall into the red if things went poorly for the league (at least for the owners, whoever they would be)?
DONUT 11: Miscellaneous.
Those are just a few issues a local writer found floating at the top of his head. Creating a league would brew many, many more. In theory, the idea presents itself as a threat comparable to or greater than a mass overseas exodus. In practice, it's hard imagining that it could survive, much less succeed … and is far from something the owners would see as a real threat.
You never want to say never, as things can fall impossibly in line to make the unfeasible a reality, but this particular avenue comes with a wealth of uncertainty and raises far more questions than can casually be answered. The reality, as ugly as it may appear in this moment, is that the NBA, David Stern and the owners provide the quickest and most direct route for the players to find what they seek: security, money, fans, marketing, etc.
Lets just hope they can come to an agreement and allow thoughts like this entire premise to fade into the forgotten.
DONUT 12: Coming up later today and this week: A DB.com first-person account of when Dennis Rodman was really a "Savage''; the 10 Reasons the Mavs COULDN'T Have Won That Title; a Position-by-Position examination of the Mavs roster for 2011-12 ... and much, much more!