Could NBA players form their own league during the lockout?

20 Comments

It’s an insane idea. It requires more financial resources than they currently have. It requires more organization than they currently have. It requires risks the players are unwilling to take. And it is, just in general theory, completely bonkers. But it is an interesting question.

Could the players form their own, independent league during the lockout?

Let’s start with this, from the Wages of Wins blog:

The new league would be owned by the members of the league i.e. the players. They would hire an organizing entity to put together the venues and the events. William Morris or CAA with an assist from Nike Nike Player’s league anyone? could put this together in a heartbeat and finding an open venue this fall and next spring? Not hard at all. The players through the union would pay a share of the gross revenue to the organizing body. Let’s say 20% of the gross revenue.

A TV contract would be required, initially for one year of course. Again, the organizing body could take care of this beforehand.

via The Free Market Alternative «.

But I mean, could they legally? Consider what David Stern said months ago:

“If, in fact, there’s a lockout, then the player is free during the course of the lockout to do what he wants to do if his contract is in effect. I don’t want to play that game with anybody. … If we have a collective bargaining arrangement with the union and there’s a lockout, then last time around [in 1998] players were free to do what they’re going to do, because they’ve been locked out.”

via David Stern: Some owners not opposed to contracting New Orleans Hornets – ESPN.

Now, the reason Stern is so hands-off with his answer is that labor laws in this country restrict employers past, present, or future, from efforts to deny workers other employment opportunities. In short, Stern doesn’t want to get sued for efforts to deny the players their right to earn a living. Everybody has a right to work in this country if they are able. America, yeah! The question of whether this would impact the current situation is more complex. But there can’t be a clause to prevent this situation under the former CBA which would apply here, as it expired. It can’t be built into current players’s contracts and apply, because those are rendered moot by the lockout.

So versus playing overseas, which requires FIBA clearance plus negotiating with teams who already have budgets set up for the coming season and players on contract, there would be no governing body here to deny or approve their eligibility. It would just be them.

Now, there’s also a million ways this won’t work. The biggest in my mind is the simple great unknown. That there may be some legal ramification neither Wages of Wins nor I are thinking of. This whole lockout situation has created hundreds of scenarios where experts far better suited for analysis of the legal issues than I are left to simply say “We don’t know, this hasn’t happened before.” Second, you’ve got to find the money. You need a person, or entity, to invest hundreds of millions of dollars. Is Nike going to be willing to get into bed with a system that will be purposefully built to hurt the NBA, when eventually they have to go back to work with the league and its teams? What about insurance? That’s kind of a big deal. Or television rights, when you factor in who has to take an enormous chance on something that may get set up and invested in, then called off in November less than a month into play? The questions go on and on and on and the fact is that this idea is too risky for pretty much of any of the principle investors, from the players to the outside investors, television executives, anyone.

But the idea isn’t without merit, at the very least as a threat. If the NBA is a players’ league as the players’ believe it is (and it is, people care more about stars than teams), this would prove it. “We can play exhibition games in Kansas City and Las Vegas and people will come whether the NBA logos are on the jerseys or not.” Any efforts which prove viable towards the players being able to make money during the lockout would ratchet up the concern from the owners. And that could end the lockout quicker.

Like I said, it’s an insane idea. But it’s also kind of an interesting one.