Getty Images

NBA players, teams pitching in to help arena workers losing work due to hiatus

Leave a comment

MIAMI — David Edelman can usually be found at a Denver Nuggets basketball game or a Colorado Rapids soccer game. As an usher, he interacts with fans in a role he calls a staple of his life.

But there are no Nuggets games for at least a month. No Rapids games, either. And Edelman has no idea what he’ll do now.

“This is what I do for a living,” Edelman said earlier this week, as the realization hit that sports were going on hiatus because of the coronavirus. “This is my income.”

Thousands of workers would have staffed the 450 NBA and NHL games that will not be played over the next month in response to the pandemic. And then there are the more than 300 spring training and regular-season baseball games, 130 NCAA Division I men’s and women’s tournament games, 50 or so Major League Soccer matches, all international golf and tennis tournaments, and who-knows-how-many high school, small college and other entertainment events canceled or postponed because of the global health crisis.

The total economic impact of the loss of sports and other events because of the pandemic — assuming only a month shutdown — is impossible to calculate but will reach the billions, easily.

Tickets aren’t being sold, so teams and leagues and organizing bodies lose money. Fans aren’t going to events that aren’t happening, so taxi drivers and ride-share operators have no one to ferry to and from those places. Hotel rooms will be empty. Beers and hot dogs aren’t being sold, so concessionaires and vendors lose money. Wait staff and bartenders aren’t getting tips. Without those tips, their babysitters aren’t getting paid.

The trickle-down effect sprawls in countless directions.

“As players, we wanted to do something, along with our ownership and coaches, to help ease the pain during this time,” star guard Stephen Curry said.

Some teams are trying to help. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, within minutes of the NBA shutdown announcement, said he wanted to find a way to help workers who will lose money because games won’t be played. By Friday, he had his plan: “We will pay them as if the games happened,” he told The Associated Press in an email.

The Golden State Warriors’ ownership, players and coaches have pledged to donate $1 million to provide assistance to employees who work games at Chase Center.

Other teams, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, have made commitments to workers at not just NBA events but also the building’s minor-league hockey games. The Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks were among the earliest NBA franchises to reveal they’re working on how they’ll take care of arena staffs.

So have the NHL’s Washington Capitals, among others, and the ownership group for Detroit’s Pistons, Red Wings and Tigers on Friday said they were setting up a $1 million fund “to cover one month’s wages for our part-time staff for games, concerts and events that they would have otherwise worked.”

“Our teams, our cities and the leagues in which we operate are a family, and we are committed to looking out for one another,” New Jersey Devils owner Josh Harris said.

There were many more significant gifts revealed later Friday.

Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans said he would “cover the salaries” for workers at the team’s arena for the next 30 days. Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons pledged $100,000 for workers there, the San Jose Sharks said part-time arena workers would get paid for all games not played and Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said he was giving $100,000 to workers in that club’s arena — a donation matched by his teammates and followed by another pledge from the team’s ownership group.

“This is a small way for me to express my support and appreciation for these wonderful people who have been so great to me and my teammates and hopefully we can all join together to relieve some of the stress and hardship caused by this national health crisis,” Williamson wrote on Instagram.

At Chicago Blackhawks hockey games alone, about 1,500 workers are in or outside the building on event nights: guest services, concessions, parking, security, box office and so on.

“The per game payroll is more than $250,000,” said Courtney Greve Hack, a spokeswoman for the United Center.

If that’s the NHL norm — no official numbers are available — then workers around the league would stand to lose more than $60 million if hockey does not return this season.

“I get it,” said Chris Lee, who owns a coffee and smoothies franchise in Arizona that draws 70% of its annual revenue sales at spring training and Arizona Coyotes hockey games. “But this is going to be really tough.”

Lee was packing up cups that won’t be used when baseball announced Thursday that spring training was ending about two weeks early. He and his staff — one full-timer, 14 part-time employees — aren’t sure what comes next.

The enormity of the numbers stacks up quickly.

The group that owns the Raptors and other pro sports clubs in Toronto, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, says it’s trying to help 4,000 workers in that city. Extrapolate that across other Canadian and U.S. pro sports cities, and those teams could be looking at 100,000 workers feeling some sort of pinch — not counting the impact at college and other levels.

Cavaliers star Kevin Love pledged $100,000 to help the workers in Cleveland address what he described as their “sudden life shift.” On Friday, reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks made a $100,000 pledge on behalf of his family

“It’s bigger than basketball! And during this tough time I want to help the people that make my life, my family’s lives and my teammates lives easier,” Antetokounmpo wrote on Twitter.

The NCAA men’s Division I tournament generates about $900 million annually through television and marketing rights alone. In Albany, New York, which was scheduled to host men’s tournament games for the first time in 17 years, organizers estimated the economic loss from the three-day event to be about $3 million.

Bars and restaurants bought tons of additional stock and perishables to prep for crowds that won’t arrive. It’ll probably take a few years before the NCAA can bring the tournament back to many of the cities slated to host games next week.

“It’s incredibly disheartening. There’s no question about that,” said Mark Bardack, president of public relations and management firm Ed Lewi and Associates, which had worked for more than a year on the planning of the tournament in Albany. “To have it all disappear, though obviously no one’s fault.”

Some arena workers, many not wanting to be identified because of workplace policies about speaking to reporters, said they are living paycheck-to-paycheck. They’re not alone, of course: A study last fall by the American Payroll Association said 74% of workers in the U.S. would “experience financial difficulty” if their usual payday was delayed by as little as one week.

In Philadelphia, Rodney Thompson works on commission selling popcorn and beer at 76ers basketball games, Flyers hockey games and Phillies baseball games. They’re all on hold.

“The more I sell, the more I make,” the 56-year-old said. “The less I sell, the less I make. It would hurt me, financially. I would have no income coming in. … I make pretty good money. But if there’s no fans, there’s no work.”

Report: Pistons searching for new general manager

Pistons executive Ed Stefanski
Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Pistons hired Ed Stefanski as a senior advisor to owner Tom Gores in 2018. Among Stefanski’s duties: Assist in the ongoing search for a new head of basketball operations. But it quickly became clear Stefanski would just run the front office himself.

Now, two years later, Detroit is finally getting around to that general-manager search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Detroit Pistons are opening a search to hire a general manager to work with senior advisor Ed Stefanski, sources tell ESPN.

Stefanski will be working with Pistons and Palace Sports Vice Chairman Arn Tellem on the process to hire a GM, sources said.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

If Stefanski is still running the front office, a new general manager would be the No. 2 – equivalent to assistant general manager on many teams.

After taking over an inflexible roster left by Stan Van Gundy, Stefanski couldn’t do much. Stefanski’s big move was trading Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers just before the trade deadline. That positioned Detroit to have major cap space next offseason, but it’s unclear how much will actually materialize. The salary cap could drop due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pistons must determine whether they’re still building around Blake Griffin, the 31-year-old due $36,810,996 and $38,957,028 the next two years. Last season, he returned to stardom and carried Detroit into the playoffs. This season, he missed most of the year due to injury.

If they’re trying to win now with Griffin, the Pistons are short on quality complementary players. If Detroit is ready to rebuild, its pool of young talent – Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, impending free agent Christian Wood, its own first-round pick – is hardly assured of success.

After years of being stuck on a path charted under the Van Gundy regime, the Pistons can soon pick a new course. This is the time get the front office up to full staffing.

Report: NBA could resume with group stage

Leave a comment

A fundamental conflict for the NBA:

  • The more traditional of a season – all 30 teams playing 82 games, four rounds of best-of-seven series – the league completes, the more more money it will make.
  • The more teams involved in a resumed season, the higher risk of coronavirus spreading throughout the league.

That’s why the NBA is considering a middle ground – resuming without teams far outside playoff position.

But how would the league structure a format for 20 teams?

Maybe a group stage to replace the first round of the playoffs.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

The 16 current playoff teams would qualify for the group stage, plus the four teams with the next-best records (Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, and Spurs). The remaining 10 teams would be done for the season. The survey sent to each general manager noted that “tiers” would first be created using the regular-season standings to ensure competitive balance between the groups.

Groups could then be randomly drawn, with one team from each tier going into each group. The NBA is working on approaches to fairly balance the groupings, such as limiting each group to only three Western Conference teams, according to multiple front office sources. Drawings for the group stage could be televised, league sources say.

As an alternative to having groups randomly selected, multiple league sources say the league has considered allowing Tier 1 teams—the Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers—to draft their own groups.

Teams would play opponents within their own groups twice, meaning every team would play eight games. The two teams in each group with the best record would move on.

Based on the current standings, the tiers would be:

  • Tier 1: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers
  • Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
  • Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, 76ers
  • Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
  • Tier 5: Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs

As far as ways to resume with 20 teams, this isn’t bad. The draw – whether random or top-team choice – alone would be a revenue-drawing TV event.

The ninth-place (Wizards) and 10th-place (Hornets) teams in the Eastern Conference might argue they should be included over the 11th-place (Kings) and 12th-place (Spurs) teams in the Western Conference. But Sacramento and San Antonio have better records than Washington and Charlotte. If there were ever a time not to stress conference affiliations, it’s now with the league preparing to resume in a single location.

There would be increased risk for top teams getting knocked out early if their group is challenging. They’ve already lost home-court advantage. But there’s also chance of upset in a regular playoff series. Besides, downside could be mitigated by allowing the top teams to draft their groups* and using regular-season record as a tiebreaker.

*This could even be done in reverse – i.e., the top teams selecting which lower-tier teams not to put in their own group.

The Bucks, Lakers, Raptors and Clippers could rotate selecting lower-tier teams to avoid. Once three top-tier teams have nixed a team, that lower-tier team would be placed in the fourth top-tier team’s group. Each group would still be required to have one team from each tier.

Or maybe the top-tier teams could even rotate sticking lower-tier teams into a specific top-tier team’s group. The Bucks could use their first selection on placing the 76ers into the Lakers’ group, for example.

There are many possibilities how to structure a group draft.

If the NBA locks into resuming with 20 teams, the other 10 teams would be incentivized to vote for whatever system generates the most revenue. Those 10 votes could boost any proposal that would otherwise be doomed by teams trying to clear their own path deep into the playoffs.

This system would satisfy players on marginal teams – like Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard – who want to play only if the games are meaningful. It’d also allow the worst teams just to be done.

The draft order and lottery odds would have to be re-considered with a 20-team group phase. Though that’s a minor issue, it’d involve every team. Again, self-interest would creep in.

This idea has some rough precedent. In 1954, the playoffs began with three-team round robins in each the East and West.

The bigger question is how many NBA teams should resume? But if the best answer is 20, this is the best format I’ve seen.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss talks steps that led to brother Jim’s removal

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Late Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss set up a very detailed trust and succession plan for his beloved franchise. His daughter Jeanie Buss would be the team’s governor, and his son Jim Buss would run basketball operations. If there was an issue, Jeanie had the ultimate power.

In 2017, after the Lakers missed the playoffs for a fifth straight year and were floundering as an organization, Jeanie used that power to oust Jim and bring in a new front office (Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, of which only Pelinka remains). Recently, Jeanie appeared on the “Daddy Issues with Joe Buck and Oliver Hudson” podcast and laid out the philosophy behind removing her brother. (Hat tip Lakers Nation)

“When my brother wasn’t going with the way my dad did things, it was a little distressing for me…

“You’re down and losing, and then my brother was changing coaches every 18 months. Sometimes you have to make coaching changes, I get that. But when you go from a coach like Mike Brown, whose emphasis was defense, to a coach like Mike D’Antoni, who really doesn’t worry so much about defense, that’s two different rosters that you need. Then the outside world thinks, ‘They don’t know what direction they’re going in.’

“You should be able to see a pathway as you hire a coach, you give him the players for his style of basketball and you make decisions that follow ones before it. You follow the path and what the person is thinking. But I couldn’t see what was going on, where he was trying to go and what our identity was going to be as a team.”

The path was clearer with Magic and Pelinka because they quickly landed LeBron James as a free agent (how much they had to do with LeBron’s decision is up for debate). The Lakers instantly became a win-now team and, a year later, traded a lot of the young players and picks to put Anthony Davis next to LeBron. The result has been the team with the best record in the West heading into the playoffs (whatever they look like).

Jim Buss swung and missed plenty, but he had a few hits as well. From the outside looking in, the biggest challenge seemed to be he operated with a mindset of “Laker exceptionalism” — that the very best players would always flock to the Lakers because they are the Lakers. The NBA doesn’t work that way anymore. No doubt, the Lakers have advantages few franchises can match. But from Jerry Buss to Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak, all through the Lakers’ successful runs, they didn’t approach things with a mindset of exceptionalism. The Lakers’ front office was bold, but it was grounded and smart — they identified and developed talent, they always had a strong core, and they had strong relationships with players. It wasn’t exceptionalism, it was hard work.

On top of that, Jim had become the scapegoat of Lakers’ fans, the focus of their blame for the years not in the playoffs. Fair or not, it became a public relations issue, not just a management issue.

Jeanie made the right move. And it may even lead to another ring soon.

Damian Lillard: I won’t play if Trail Blazers have no shot at playoffs

Leave a comment

Most players on lottery-bound teams reportedly prefer to be finished rather than return as the NBA attempts to finish its season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Someone finally put his name behind that sentiment.

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team. But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that [expletive] in there,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday morning via phone.

I do feel like if we do come back and our mind is right, we can beat anyone. It’s going to be hard to get going with no fans, you’ve been off all this time and some people are just ready for summer like, ‘[Expletive] it, I haven’t played in a long time and the season is basically over to me. Do I really care like I cared before?’ It’s going to be a lot of those factors going on and that presents a lot of room for a team to sneak some [expletive]. Like, really mess around and knock some teams off and then, ‘Oh, they’re in the Western Conference finals.’ It’s room for that with this situation. So the fact that it’s possible and we wouldn’t get an opportunity at that, that’s weak to me. I ain’t getting no younger.”

In ninth place, Portland is 3.5 games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies. The Trail Blazers might still have a chance to reach the playoffs. It depends on the NBA’s format for resumption.

There’s consideration to bringing back only teams with a postseason chance, anyway. But there’s also talk of all 30 teams playing in order to fulfill local TV contracts.

Lillard is a tremendous leader. If he doesn’t play, that would cast such a negative feeling onto his Portland teammates – and beyond. Lillard’s voice could affect how the entire league handles its return.

With a super-max extension already signed, Lillard has the luxury of being able to afford risking his paycheck by not playing. Not everyone can do that. There are major complications in determining how much money, if any, non-returning players should earn.

This also gets into an issue even in normal times: There are too many games late in the season involving at least one team incentivized to lose. The Trail Blazers have made the playoffs every season after Lillard’s rookie year. He has never had to worry about this since becoming a star. But players and teams annually grapple with games that, at best, don’t really matter. It creates a horrible product.

The concern is just magnified now because of the heightened risk of playing.

The NBA should listen to Lillard’s apprehension, realize he’s not alone and take it seriously. Then, whenever normal play resumes, the league should also realize this type of situation comes up – admittedly, with lower stakes – every year.