The NBA lost at least 171 games due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Which means owners can terminate the Collective Bargaining Agreement through force majeure (epidemic).
Really, it took only one canceled game to open the possibility. But the league’s revamped structure went much further. The NBA had 259 regular-season games left when the league suspended play in March. That remaining schedule was replaced by 88 seeding games plus 0-4 play-in games at Disney World.
Issues loom into next season, too.
At minimum, owners and players must determine how players are paid amid this chaos. But there’s also room for other changes to the CBA.
National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN:
“My preference is that we take care of the only things that we have to take care of, and that is to deal with what presumably is going to be a reduction in revenue of some consequence,” she said. “So, no, the notion of accelerating a renegotiation of the CBA, no. That’s not something that has been addressed and, I would venture to say, is not going to happen.
“We’ll do what we have to do and no more, and then we’ll move on.”
To terminate the CBA, owners must inform the players within 60 days of the Force Majeure Event. It’s unclear when that deadline would be amid an ongoing pandemic.
For her own sake, Robertson better be right. She’d appear to be caught woefully off guard if owners terminate the CBA after she said this. Most likely, she said this only after gaining a clear understanding of owners’ intentions.
It would reflect poorly owners if they – after players cooperated with the resumption at Disney World – terminated the CBA. But with many sectors of the economy already devastated and so many teams set to lose money next season, owners might not care how it looks.
A lockout is about is about willpower. How long will owners tolerate missing out on profits? How long will players tolerate missing out on salaries? The pressures in normal times led to the current compromise.
But teams might not be profitable next year. That could give owners more patience in halting games in order to secure more-favorable CBA terms – namely securing a higher share of revenue.
On the flip side, players might be more desperate to play after unexpectedly having their salaries cut this season. Players could make long-term concessions to keep the money flowing in the short term.
This wouldn’t be the owner-player partnership NBA commissioner Adam Silver has championed. It’s not what Roberts is predicting. Those are major reasons to doubt the CBA will get terminated.
But I’m still not totally convinced owners will resist the temptation.