A longtime NBA friend, Michael Goldberg of the Coaches Association, gave me a call and asked if I would assist him in getting this 'guest column' or open letter out to the key media who cover the NBA and its current labor situation.
No editing or preamble from yours truly, here is the commentary from Michael H. Goldberg:
An Urgent Call to the NBA, the NBPA and its Players for a Truce and Return to Talks, from a Veteran of the Business of Professional Basketball
By Michael H. Goldberg, Executive Director NBA Coaches Association
“Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got ‘til it's gone…” Joni Mitchell (Big Yellow Taxi)
I have been involved in the sport of professional basketball for over 35 years. In 1973, I was appointed General Counsel to the American Basketball Association, a great league but a financial disaster. In 1978, shortly after four of the ABA’s teams staggered into the safe harbor of the NBA (then itself a league with financial issues), I began my assignment as Executive Director of the NBA Coaches Association (all Head and Assistant Coaches plus alumni) and have served in this capacity ever since.
I’m urging this call for an immediate return to discussions by the parties solely as a veteran of the business of the sport and not as a representative or spokesman of the NBA Coaches or any other constituency. As someone who has “seen it all” in the NBA (and other professional sports), I urge the principals involved in the current labor dispute to immediately back away from the precipice, get back to the bargaining table, and redouble their efforts to resolve the current conflict and get a deal done without delay.
The upcoming NBA season must be saved. To do otherwise will cause a self-inflicted economic blow to an enterprise that over the years through the hard work of players, team owners and the League Office has become a great global brand, but, like every business operating in today’s fragile economic landscape, one that is more susceptible to “decline and fall.”
We are currently in a global economic crisis such as has not been seen in any of our lifetimes. Only individuals wearing three-inch thick rose-colored glasses can believe that sports, and NBA basketball in particular, are and will in the future be immune from these forces. Great companies with names that our parents looked upon as having the safety and sustainability of Fort Knox have only survived thanks to bankruptcy or government bailout, while many others have disappeared altogether. Tens of thousands of employees working for these “untouchable” companies for years thought they were set for life, only to find themselves out of work and scrambling to figure out Plan B.
In this new and dangerous economic environment there are no guarantees that what worked in the past can work now. We all need to concede that the NBA does not operate in a financial bulletproof bubble. After months of discussion, it has become apparent that a solution to the current situation means sacrifice and change. The parties have moved in that direction. Now is not the time to step back and harden positions. Litigation and the “courts” are not the answer – “been there and done that.” Let the parties have the courage to make a deal, even if it requires taking some risks and accepting the unpalatable for the short term, so as to ensure that going forward there will be a viable and robust NBA business, one that is able to withstand the current financial environment and further prosper.
Partial or lost seasons are a huge mistake and a blow to any sport that requires years of painful business rebuilding to get back on track. We all know this and know that damage has already taken place. The recent lost NHL season is an example whereby the end result was a damaged sport and fallout that fractured its union and cost hundreds of millions of dollars lost by the league, its players and its teams, to say nothing of the financial pain suffered by non-player (league and team) employees, suppliers and allied businesses. Similar results have affected every sport that has shut down due to labor/management issues.
There is no time to waste. History has proven that all sports labor conflicts are ultimately solved. No doubt all sides are concerned about their financial well-being and rightly so. But everyone involved must now think beyond their own interests, check out the daily financial headlines, and work towards a negotiated solution now. Short of this all parties will risk killing the goose that lays so many golden eggs for so many connected with it. Let’s not commit a “Flagrant 2” to a business that can ill afford it.