Sometime before 9:30 p.m. Thursday, LeBron James caused a seismic shift in the NBA.
Sure, with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami now has a better shot at winning in 2010-11 than the team did this year, but LeBron’s signing will be even more far reaching.
Owners across the league have no doubt paid close attention to the behind-the-scenes planning mapped out by the trio of free agents, who apparently made a pact to play together (for less money than their market value, mind you; this will be important later, so file it away). This will not bode well with the multi-millionaires who own the teams, particularly as we head into a probable lockout.
The NBA, like all professional teams, has tried to find a reasonable balance between the owners and players, trying to make us all feel like it’s more of an equal partnership between the two and less like an employer/employee situation. Something inside us, as fans, makes us feel the need to believe the illusion that the players aren’t working for the owners, but we also like to believe the athletes would play for the love of the game and not the multi-year, mega-dollar contracts.
Frankly, we see the sports world through Pete Rose-colored glasses. We want to believe in the purity of the game. We want to believe it’s all on the up and up.
And when we realize our favorite athletes drink, gamble, dabble in drugs and various other activities we’d rather not think about, then we watch our worlds come crashing down around us in a haze of point-shaving, steroids or the crisis of the moment.
So what does this have to do with LeBron and the Miami Heat?
The owners – who just happen to be the people who have invested millions, if not billions, into these franchises – will not sit idly by and let a handful of players manipulate the system. In the past, Free Agent X talked to various teams, got a handful of offers and the team with the best package won the player’s services.
Under LeBron, Wade and Bosh, the players controlled everything. Owners had little, if any, say so. Instead, they found themselves taking a backseat to the whims of three 20-somethings. I doubt very seriously that Mark Cuban has ever taken orders from anyone, at least not since he made his first billion. Do you think for a minute he’s going to want to let the power shift out of his hands? You don’t become rich thinking that way.
It’s worth noting that these are all-stars (superstars in the case of LeBron and Wade). Regular players will not get the luxury to work together to pick a team. They will continue to work to fill slots, doing the spot duties necessary to help teams win games and titles.
Their reward? A lower price on the market, which is a very real threat now that LeBron et al have taken less-than-market prices to play together in Miami. This does not seem like something the Players’ Union will endorse. Not only will it drive overall contracts down for role players, there’s now a legitimate chance that star contracts will shrink, too. If LeBron, who is arguably the best or second-best player in the league today, accepts less money to play somewhere, how can, say, the New York Knicks expect Carmelo Anthony to sign for even more money?
So, players are now being paid less, which should make owners happy but will do nothing but anger the Players’ Union. At the same time, players can plot out their paths so they end up together, which should make the players happy but will only incense the owners.
This ends up being a situation in which there truly appear to be no long-term winners. Cleveland, both the franchise and fans, lose their identity and go back to being a sad-sack organization. Miami might get a few more wins in the upcoming season, but without a decent cast of supporting players (something that is unlikely given the salary cap restrictions that come from signing three big-name free agents), a title will prove harder to come by than initially anticipated.
You have the two teams directly involved in this (sorry, Toronto, you don’t get much of a say despite losing Bosh) losing out in the long run, plus massive issues forming with players and owners (and between players and owners).
At the time, the so-called “Miami Nice” trio of LeBron, Wade and Bosh no doubt had a plan that sounded good as they hashed it out behind closed doors. They probably even came up with a neat little Brangelina-style nickname, maybe something like LeWash.
Check back in a few months, particularly as the lockout looms and both sides start digging in for more control with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. With losers all around, that trio’s nickname might prove to describe the whole league: LeWashed up.
You forgot, or rather underestimated, one factor. From the casual fan’s point of view, the trio working together to choose a team they want to play for means a very big shift away from the mercenary attitude that seems prevalent in professional sports. It means that when you watch Miami play this season, you’ll know that the stars are playing for less than their market value, and therefore they care about the team, or at least about each other. That team first attitude, or at least the perception of it, may increase the popularity of the league in general, especially if it spreads. As I’ve told you before, I’ve long viewed the NBA as the place where basketball players play after they retire from the real game. This shift may entice me to watch more NBA games this year, and if it affects me that way, I’m sure there are many more like me.
I understand your point, Brinton, and it’s valid, but only from a fan’s perspective. I’m a fan, true, but we can’t fool ourselves into thinking it’s about us. It’s about money, and who has the money? The owners and the players.
It will always remain unclear as to actually has the power in that dynamic. The owners have the money, but the players have the prestige. The players bring in the fans, but the owners pay the money to get the players. They may not own the players, but they definitely rent them.
While I can somewhat respect what LeBron, Wade and Bosh have done in taking pay cuts to play together, the negative impact will be felt, I’m afraid, for years to come.
The less money notion is exaggerated. $110 mil. in Florida, where there are no taxes, probably isn’t that far off from a $120 mil. contract anywhere else once you factor in taxes. So they’re really not taking much less money, but, hey, it sounds good for them to say that.
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