Occupy the NBA

There is a movement afoot in the shadows of the NBA's home on Fifth Avenue in New York called Occupy Wall Street, an ongoing series of demonstrations based in Zuccotti Park.

While loose and unorganized the protesters occupying the park are perceived to be against social and economic inequities, corporate greed, and the influence of highly paid lobbyists buying government favors.

It started back on Sept. 17 and at last count similar demonstrations had popped up in about 70 additional cities.

To some on the far fringes of both sides of the political spectrum, the narrative of Occupy Wall Street is a repudiation of capitalism itself, disdain of a system where the top one percent of the population controls 42 percent of the financial wealth and the average 'Main Streeter' is lured into debt trying to chase the so-called American Dream.

Whatever you think of Occupy Wall Street, however, is inconsequential. What is indisputable is that the tension and antagonism in our society toward the wealthy has never been greater.

Normally a lockout aimed at destroying a labor union is all about Montgomery Burns on top of the big hill trying to take advantage of the middle class but comparing the Teamsters to the NBPA is as illogical as it gets.

Make no mistake, the players in the NBA, like the owners, are in the same one percent that has so much of the wealth in our country.

NBA commissioner David Stern hit the media hard on Thursday stopping by WFAN in New York and ESPN before finishing up on NBA TV Game Time, desperately trying to frame the owners' position in this billionaire vs. millionaire Steel Cage Match.

"I don't think I am going to apologize for the owners wanting to make a profit," Stern said. "That's what capitalism is. People say, "Well they bought a sports team they should expect to lose money," no, they shouldn't because when you spend the amounts of money that these franchises now cost and the losses pile up because the players salaries have gone up from a billion to $2 billion plus, I am not going to say, "Oh we shouldn't make a profit." The goal here is to make a profit."

The players counter by saying that they shouldn't have to pay for the mistakes of an incompetent owner and that all the monetary problems can be fixed by simple revenue sharing. In the NBPA's mind, bad contracts are management's fault, non-player costs like jet fuel is not a part of the bottom line.

Stern, obviously, offers a divergent opinion.

"If one understands the situation, the players say, "We want you to revenue share," and we are losing $300 million or as the players now utter, "Well you shouldn't count this and you shouldn't count that so they are only losing $200 million," Stern countered. "That's an argument I would like to get into with them in their accounts of hours. You can't revenue share your way out of $200 million in losses, so the idea is to cut where you can and be as profitable as you can so the big market teams and the big grossing teams will share with the low grossing teams."

Mediation is perhaps the last hope and on the horizon next week when George Cohen, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, will be on hand to steer what looks to be a sinking ship.

"We think that the federal mediator could be helpful in breaking the log jam. We welcomed it and the call came. We have always welcomed it. Maybe a different perspective will be helpful," Stern said.

But if significant progress toward a labor agreement isn't reached early next week, the entire 2011-12 NBA season could be lost.

"Each side is going to meet with the mediator on Monday and if there is a breakthrough it is going to come on Tuesday," Stern said. "If not, I think that the season is really going to potentially escape from us."

If it does escape, Mark Cuban can lean on Landmark Theatres, HDNet and his accrued wealth of $2.5 billion. Kobe Bryant can fall back on the estimated $196 million dollars he has made since entering the NBA in 1996-97.

The middle class guy working in the NBA office or for one of the teams?

Well, he has already lost his job.

"We've probably reduced our work force at the league office in the last year by attrition and lay offs of over 200 people," Stern said. "The teams probably have done another 200 total. We've been meeting with each of the teams going over their costs and finding ways to push them down as well."

The ticket takers, ushers, food servers and other gameday personnel at the arenas?

They're next ...

Maybe, just maybe it's time for 'Occupy the NBA.'