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Could NBA players form their own league during the lockout?

Jul 2, 2011, 1:00 PM EDT

Derek Fisher

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.

  1. archibaldnemesis - Jul 2, 2011 at 2:05 PM

    this is really a brilliant idea. the potential for the players to make so much more money then any salary cap allows is there. would be an insane challenge but so worth it.

  2. tashkalucy - Jul 2, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    Great idea!

    Hope they do it!

    CCA, Nike and ESPN are already running the NBA. Let’s see them front so serious money and put i at risk for a change.

    They could do what hey’e trying to do in the NBA – just make a half-dozen teams of stars. The rest don’t matter anyway.

    Oh, this would be an eye-opener, trust me on that one.

  3. goforthanddie - Jul 2, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    This is so ridiculous it could only be posted here.
    A couple of “teams”, barnstorming the country for fun, playing some half-assed hoops for the fans is one thing; I can easily see that. A serious “league” requires a bit more planning than “Hey guys, let’s put on a show!”

  4. hail2tharedskins - Jul 2, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    The biggest reasons why a player’s league won’t succeed is because you wouldn’t be able to sign a major tv contract and you wouldn’t get many if any star players. The major networks wouldn’t touch a player’s league with a 10 pole because they wouldn’t want to ruin their relationship with the NBA, plus they would never be able to sell the ad spots at anywhere near what they do for NBA games, thus there would be no major money. And of course the money is the most important factor. Without a huge guaranteed tv contract, setting up games would almost certainly be a money losing exercise, afterall with big tv money a lot of owners are losing money on games – and the players wouldnt have anywhere near the marketing power to draw the fans and dollars the NBA does. Setting aside the simple dollars and cents, a new league set up by players would not get participation from many if any of the superstars. There are two reasons for that, the first being they wouldn’t be able to make anywhere near the money the NBA is playing them and if they are scoffing at reducing their salaries by a 1/3rd, you can be the superstars wouldn’t be inclined to play for what would likely amount to about 1/10th or less of what they are currently making (because there would be no contracts negotiated, the union would have to split the money paid to players evenly – and while all players would take a pay cut the superstars would see the largest cut). Certainly there are a few superstars that would play just to play or show solidarity, but the risk of injury would still make them opt out (sure they could buy insurance, but they would be paying more in insurance than they would be making to play and doubt they would choose to pay to play when they could spend their money to go on vacation). Also I will add the obvious, without the superstars, it is that much harder to get any tv deal, and to attract fans at all (not to speak of getting them to pay). Those are the main reasons that a player’s league isn’t feasible financially, sure they could stage a few exhibition games as a PR move to rally the fans in support and also to help keep the players unified but they couldn’t set up a league that would be financially viable (at least not in the time for this season or probably even next, and if they engaged in the necessary long-term effort to set up a viable league the NBA would lift the lockout just in time to undercut them).

    • gentbaseball12 - Jul 2, 2011 at 3:28 PM

      The legal side of things as it relates to the player contracts is actually quite simple – as long as there is a lockout, the players’ contracts with the teams are “suspended.”

      This was litigated back in the 98-99 lockout when players argued that they should get paid during a lockout since they had guaranteed contracts. The arbitrator said “no” that since the player contract and the CBA are interrelated and depend on one another, the contracts are effectively suspended during a lockout. This means that players are free to do what they want during a lockout, provided they fulfill their contractual obligations once the lockout ends (as their contractual duties under the NBA contracts will be “revived” and subject to any new limitations in the new CBA.

      Insurance would seem to be the biggest problem in terms of costs.

      David falk tried something similar in 1998 staging a PPV game in Atlantic City, so this kind of thing isn’t toally unprecedented. The NHL players also attempted to build a new league during their lockout in 2004-05 and it failed miserably based on lack of organization, but with the backing of the superagencies in the NBA, this might be less of a problem.

      • gentbaseball12 - Jul 2, 2011 at 3:30 PM

        Also I will add because of my above comments, I don’t think the “FIBA Clearance” requirements would apply, since they would have no contractual obligations to fulfill during a lockout, but this isn’t as clear cut of an issue. They would have to provide an “out” clause for anyone who goes overseas for players under contract in the NBA, so it’s not clear how that would affect the FIBA issues.

    • knicksnyny100 - Jul 2, 2011 at 9:30 PM

      Thats the same thing the ABA said,where are they now?

      • hail2tharedskins - Jul 2, 2011 at 9:50 PM

        Really? The ABA players started their own league? Well were exactly are they now???

  5. penwit - Jul 2, 2011 at 7:28 PM

    Yes this is Great idea! Why should we fans suffer during an arguement of millionaires and billionaires? Certain other cities could benefit from NBA revenue–cities that may never get an NBA team.

    Hope they do it!
    It’s is quite possible for a new (temporary) league to start and it could happen with Star NBA players participation. There are more than enough cities with new and unused stadiums that could be used for a profitable exchange with current NBA locked out talent for example: in Lousville, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Seattle, and many more–6-8 citi-stadiums could generate TV contracts and advertising monies–making it very feasible for Star and fringe players to play somewhere during the lockout. These stadiums have been waiting for NBA approval and expansion–and are just sitting there unused or under utilized. Cities (states) could pay player insurance costs and salaries with the new revenue generated from games–and these areas would benefit financially from having the world’s best teams play where they have not.

    CCA, Nike and ESPN are already running the NBA. Let’s see them front so serious money and put i at risk for a change. Especially when ESPN, ABC, TNT are now expecting to lose over a billion dollars during the NBA Lockout.

    They could do what hey’e trying to do in the NBA – just make a half-dozen teams of stars and fringe players could help complete the teams.

    Oh, this would be an eye-opener, trust me on this!

  6. htimsr40 - Jul 2, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    Anytime something new comes along, “it’s never been done before” is the easiest argument to use to minimize the opportunity. Truth is, if the NBA players or the NFL players decided to do this and they were able to get a lot of star players to sign on, it would be a no-brainer success. They would immediately become the BEST league in the world and sponsors (Nike, etc.) would run, not walk, to become associated with the world’s best league.

    There are real issues that would need to be resolved around initial funding and the mechanics of implementation, but the idea of a player-owned league is a winner. You could even have player-coaches, with the star being the coach. Save $12M on Phil Jackson’s salary and split it among the Lakers’ players.

  7. 1742hawk - Jul 2, 2011 at 10:55 PM

    hell yeaz….they could play at local college arenas and earn $300/night.

  8. downtowndanny - Jul 2, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    this could work, but the one thing I would add is Pay Per View translating into a huge Paper View (play on words, for you slowpokes). Look at how UFC has practically destroyed WWE. This sort of thing should be in the Players Union contingency plans anyway. Superstar teams are cool but they should have a lottery for 12- 14 teams. Does the lockout affect D League too? If so, they should be able to join this new league as well. Ex NBA guys that want to coach would get their chance to show and prove. It would never work because the league has a gazillion laywers and would fight it tooth and nail, especially when they see us ball hungry fans spending dough on the new league, the lockout would end after the 1st game. This is a great concept that they seriously need to explore.

    • penwit - Jul 2, 2011 at 11:07 PM

      Oh, and what about NBA players teaming up to play against Chinese teams touring China, being personally introduced and sponcered by advertisers over there, Wow, what an income!

    • 1742hawk - Jul 3, 2011 at 12:26 AM

      Oh yeaz….Payz per Views….Sometimes there is 6-8 games per night. People paying $50-60 per game. Im talkin mo mo mo money. Thats SOME krazy killa cA$H.,

  9. 1742hawk - Jul 3, 2011 at 12:27 AM

    Then you throw in some coupons for some free popcorn and soda’s and people be going crazy for that shiot.

  10. tominma - Jul 3, 2011 at 1:48 PM

    Yes, it’s an insane idea!! So why did you take up so much freakin space with such an insane idea???? OH I know…. so you could get hits on the story! Silly me!

  11. silk32 - Jul 3, 2011 at 7:07 PM

    If Derrick Fisher and (i) other over the hill players and (ii) young guys with the basketball IQ of a 5th grader are participating, then I will pass on this idea.

  12. 23rdinvestmentblog - Jul 4, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    Now assuming this lockout give the players a legal right to move on to another league I say do it. You have someone find 36 other Billionaires(shouldnt be hard) willing to invest say 500 Million to buy into a new franchise. You use the same teams, the same rules and the same contracts(same pay same years on existing contract). For example NY would have all their players and all players on NY would have to sign the new contract with the same wording and under the same length of time. So whomever is a free agent is a free agent and so on down the line with all teams. The new league is just picking up where the old league left off.

    Now what would change is a new CBA that the players proposed would take the place of the old one! You might want to push the percentages up a little more being that they would be giving up their rights to the NBA.

    Also We include 6 new teams from Overseas (Hence the Global) where they get to choose their own team to be competitive…..Say China, Italy or the top European teams that will be competitive. So they can have whomever they want and maybe allow them to even draft 3 players from each team if they like or should I say have access to 3 players from each team. So whomever the teams make available they can take on their Salary if chosen. Now if, say 12 European teams want to take the best players and make one team its ok but there should be enough teams overseas to create 6 good ones that will be competitive.

    Name of the League can be GBA…..Global Basketball Association

    Now they could use either the college arena’s or other arena’s that are free like Izod center for the NJ players(Nets)

    If there were 36 Billionaires willing to put that type of Money up to start a new basketball league do you think the current Billionaires will reassess their decision to Lock the players out and come back to the table with a more humble approach? I think so!

    I would also allow more TV stations to buy the rights to broadcast these games trying to get the most money from them all. I would reduce the price of the tickets in each city by 20% to 30% to make it more affordable to see this great game. And most importantly make this partnership worth each new owner putting up 500Mil for a team.

    Now with all this being done the players would have to decertify and you can have one person running this partnership instead of one person for the owners and one person for the players.


    Now I know this sounds crazy and yes Trump already tried it with football but I really think it can work as long as the players will be willing to join.

  13. archibaldnemesis - Jul 5, 2011 at 7:57 PM

    in the least we should get a “Blue Chips 2” movie out of the lockout :)

    • silk32 - Jul 6, 2011 at 6:10 PM


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