Monday, November 28, 2011

I have literally (LITERALLY literally!) been waiting 32 months to write this post

[In the words of Bart Scott, this post goes out TO ALL THE NONBELIEVERS. Yeah, FireJay may have seen much better days, but we're not dead yet. We're just slowly bleeding out. And we'll stop breathing only when we're good and ready.]

Give Bill Simmons credit where credit is due: he knows a lot about whether or not he is acquaintances with Jimmy Kimmel. He also sometimes occasionally bumblefucks his way into some half decent NBA analysis. In February of 2009, he wrote an article about how (and to what extent) the NBA's revenue system was broken and what fans could expect when the then-current collective bargaining agreement expired in the summer of 2011. He was right in a lot of ways; the CBA was awful for the owners, the owners were pretty awful at managing their finances regardless of the content of that CBA, and trouble was brewing.

Had he left his analysis there I wouldn't be writing this. But I remember reading his article and chuckling at some of his dire predictions regarding how things would shakeout in the aftermath of the impending lockout. I said to myself, "Assuming I don't die in a tragic sex accident between now and the fall of 2011, I'm going to rip this apart one day." And sure enough, I managed to completely avoid any and all sexual activity between then and now. Women don't dig basements I guess. Anyways, let's take a trip back to February of 2009 and look at Bill's analysis of "The No Benjamins Association." See, the problem wasn't Bill's premise- it was the comical hyperbole and scare tactics he used to try to support it. I usually don't link to Simmons (or anyone, really) but since this article is so old I'll buck the trend this one time.

I skipped my annual NBA All-Star Weekend column because I was frantically trying to finish my book. At least that's how I rationalized it. I need to finish this book. I have a deadline. I can't afford to spend that writing time on anything else. But after reflecting for a few days, I came to a sobering conclusion: The book was a convenient excuse. I could have found time to pump out that column. I just didn't want to hand it in.

See, it wouldn't have been a typical All-Star Weekend account for me. It would have been about money. You might remember me writing that the NBA was the No Balls Association two years ago.

Man, did I enjoy that column.

Now it's the No Benjamins Association. Nobody is rolling in Benjamins anymore. Everyone is scared. Money hangs over everything.

Funny twist- the theme of his whole article then was about how the NBA was triple fucked because of money, money, money. And then this week one of Bill's hand picked Grantland writers released a piece about how the lockout was never about money; it was purely about power. I will not set myself on fire while telling you stories about my kids and trips to Vegas with my friends.

[Ten paragraphs about how the league is financially screwed combined with anecdotes about how ZANY Celtics fans are when they visit other teams' arenas omitted.]

Yet declining attendance isn't even one of the league's four biggest problems right now. I would rank the top four like this:

1) Len Bias- still dead
2) Zombie Sonics! Or something!
3) Kobe won finals MVP after being the best player on the team that won the finals BUT OHMIGOD HE SHOT POORLY FROM THE FIELD IN GAME 7
4) Milwaukee's owner won't return my calls- doesn't he know that 200 of their fans who also like me signed an internet petition to make me GM?

1. The 2011 Lockout That Hasn't Happened Yet

Someone In The Know told me that 20 of the 30 NBA teams will lose money this season … and we haven't even come close to hitting rock bottom yet. Just wait until next season.

Yeah, just wait!

Which brings us to the Lockout That Hasn't Happened Yet. Unless the players' association agrees to major concessions by the summer of 2011 -- highly doubtful because that would involve applying common sense -- the owners will happily lock out players as soon as the current CBA expires, then play the same devious waiting game from the summer of 1998.

A waiting game that lasted SEVERAL MONTHS before a new agreement was reached and a shortened season with full playoffs happened. How strange that the exact same thing is going to happen this time around. But fuck being reasonable about that possibility; it's more fun to act like there's some kind of chance the league was going to miss multiple seasons (see below). Look, I'm not trying to play "nah nah toldja so" with Bill here. I probably should have posted about this article when I originally read it. But he's just so... Simmonsy. He can't just make a point; he has to try to pound his nail into the wall with a sledgehammer. And in doing so he butchers the point and wrecks his credibility.

David Stern will grow another scruffy beard. The owners will plant their feet in the sand, grab the tug-of-war rope and dig in. Only this time, they KNOW they will win. See, we learned a dirty little secret in the last lockout: An inordinate number of NBA players live paycheck to paycheck. Yes, even the guys making eight figures a year. You can play high-stakes poker with them … and you will win.

Quick tangent: You're asking yourself, "Wait, how can a dude making $8-10 million a year live paycheck to paycheck?" Easy. First,

And you can sort of imagine what it would sound like when a white guy from Boston paints a picture of how NBA players could be living like this. NOT DAVID LEE THOUGH! HE'S CAREFUL AND JUDICIOUS WITH HIS FINANCES!

Team Stern and the owners know this better than anyone. They will pick the next fight, and again, they will win. When the players' union waves a white flag and the lockout finally ends (2012? 2013?),


I was actually scared for a couple weeks there that the lockout could potentially wipe out this season. I don't think the odds were ever over 25%, but I was sweating a little. To pretend that it might not have ended until 2013, though, is pure lunacy.

I predict a raise of the individual salary max (to $24-25 million), a softer salary cap, a restriction on long-term contracts (can't be more than three years unless you're re-signing your own star), the elimination of opt-out clauses and the midlevel exemption, and the rookie age limit rising to 20. That's seven predictions in all … and I bet I'll end up nailing six.

Simmons predicting his own predictions will be right: least surprising thing in the history of sportswriting things. Let's see how he did.

I predict a raise of the individual salary max (to $24-25 million),

Actually sort of got this one right, in the sense that teams can now spend a larger portion of their cap figure on one guy. 1 for 1.

a softer salary cap,

Cue up the Price is Right losing horn. The cap's softness remains unchanged while the luxury tax got more punitive. 1 for 2.

a restriction on long-term contracts (can't be more than three years unless you're re-signing your own star),

He counts this as two separate predictions and he got one; teams can go five years to bring their own guys back and four if they're bringing in a new guy. That's a cut back from where things were last CBA, but not as drastic as he predicted. 2 for 4.

the elimination of opt-out clauses and the midlevel exemption,

Wrong on both counts. 2 for 6.

and the rookie age limit rising to 20.

As far as my research shows, this wasn't even discussed as part of this negotiation. Not to say the owners wouldn't prefer it to exist, but still. 2 for 7.

That's seven predictions in all … and I bet I'll end up nailing six.

Insert joke about Bill's NFL gambling skills here.

Will the league survive a yearlong disappearance?

Sure, but that's the wrong question. How about "How likely is it that the league and the players look at what happened to the NHL after its yearlong lockout last decade and say 'Fuck it, that looks like a great idea.'"

What about two years?

Again, I'm guffawing.

We're less than 29 months from starting to find out. If you think it's a good idea to disappear for even six months in shaky economic times, ask any Writers Guild member how that turns out.

The NBA lockout is like an apple, and the writers' strike is like an orange. Hope you see what I did there.

These wealthy or used-to-be-wealthy owners don't want to keep losing money just to feed their ego by continuing to own a basketball team. They will make other arrangements, the same way they would arrange to sell their favorite yacht because they didn't feel like splurging on gasoline anymore. These guys don't want to fix the system; they want to reinvent it.

No, they didn't. All they wanted was a bigger slice of the cash pie. And they got it. Most of the framework around that pie ended up more or less unchanged, to the surprise of no one with a brain. Gotta admit that sensationalism is more fun though. Moving ahead to a slightly less absurd but still pretty stupid segment of the same article.

4. The dawning of NBA Franchise Hot Potato.
Ohhhhhhhh, it's coming.

I became obsessed with this topic over All-Star Weekend and solicited input from as many people in the know as I could. Franchise Hot Potato hinges on five factors in all, although only three need to be in play.

The most Simmonsy of all Simmonsisms: there are X and only X factors that determine how the universe works. Here, let me list them for you. 1) Something about girls who are "stripper hot." 2) 80s movies! Etc.

Looking at the next 15 months only, the consensus of people in the know was that multiple NBA franchises (guesses ranged from three to eight) will move cities, get sold to new owners or throw themselves on the mercy of the league (meaning the NBA would effectively take over operations of that franchise, kinda like what happens in the MLS or WNBA).

The league took over the Hornets about 22 months after this writing but I'll give him that. Obviously no one moved cities; the Kings might next summer but it's a big might. As far as I know, there have been three ownership changes since February '09 (only one of which happened before June 2010): Bobcats, Warriors, and Nets. The Hawks deal fell through. So I guess the people on the lower end of his guessing spectrum were close to right. Still kind of absurd though. The alarmism in this piece is fucking silly. And it all comes to a head in the second to last paragraph:

So that's the climate for the No Benjamins Association right now: Murky, unpredictable and not so lucrative. And you wonder why I didn't want to write about All-Star Weekend. Looking at the big picture, the league won't struggle even 1/10th as much as the NHL in years to come -- of all the wildest predictions I heard in Phoenix, the craziest came from a connected executive

Named JackO, Hench, or something of the like.

who predicted that fifteen NHL teams would go under within the next two years (and was dead serious) --

/checks NHL website, laughs

and Major League Baseball is about to get creamed beyond belief.

Man, I wish someone had told Pujols and Fielder and Reyes about this before they hit free agency. Those guys aren't going to make any money this offseason! Also, I hope your standard for "beyond belief" is really low. MLB indeed saw a multiple point attendance drop from 2008 to 2009. And then: yeah.


Chris W said...

Larry catching feelings

Jack M said...

Larry B: no longer aspiring to study law; still venomously jealous of Bill Simmons's success.

Anonymous said...

A response way too late for anyone to care, but I must get it off my chest:

Simmons needs to be called out on his constant citing of the 2007-8 WGA strike as a failure for the striking writers. While the WGA didn't get everything they wanted--as always happens in any sort of compromise--they won some key concessions. It wasn't nearly as disastrous as Simmons seems to think it was/wants it to have been for sake of comparison.

I have 2 Simmons-esque theories why he kept going to this well: 1) a subconscious reveal of how Bill still secretly aspires to be a TV writer--it's a sly way of reiterating his Jimmy Kimmel connection, 2) building on #1, its a poor attempt to maintain some credibility on labor issues: he was, after all, a TV writer for a bit, kinda, and there was a strike so he knows about this stuff, man. Ultimately, all it did was once again demonstrate his inability to grasp complexity.

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