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Key to labor peace: ability to see things from another view

NBA commissioner Adam Silver optimistic growing financial sophistication of players may help future CBA talks

POSTED: Oct 23, 2015 6:00 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Commissioner Silver's Statement

NBA commissioner Adam Silver addresses the media about the topics that were discussed during the Board of Governors meeting.

— Dating back probably to the first time a high-profile athlete engaged in very public contract talks to play a sport for money, there was a familiar claim -- "I'm a businessman too, y'know" -- that emerged in the dynamic between player and team. In reality, though, the athlete generally still was an employee, the team owner was his boss and the mere presence of extra zeroes on his paycheck didn't necessarily elevate the player beyond working-stiff status.

But that has been changing, with zeroes added to zeroes, eight-figure salaries making up nine-figure contracts and some NBA players earning as much or more off the court than on it. Plenty of the league's stars and even role players have spun that financial capital into outside ventures, to the point where they know what it is to make a payroll, hire and fire and weigh the risks and rewards of everyday business decisions.

The question as it pertains to the NBA and its next collective bargaining agreement is: Will that somewhat shared vision now between owners and players help or hinder future labor talks?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver believes the growing financial sophistication of players may be to both sides' benefit before and after the current CBA deal gets re-opened (a near certainty) in July 2017.

"In a very helpful way, they're seeing things from both sides of the table," Silver said during his news conference Friday at the end of the two-day Board of Governors meetings. "What's great about the life cycle of this league right now, when you have former players become owners [and], talking to a lot of our players, their goal maybe is to own an NBA team or be a successful business person.

"When they have that perspective and they see, in terms of being successful in business, you can't just look at overall revenue, you have to look at profitability. You have to look at the amount of money being put at risk and what the expected return is. All those business concepts that, in a really cosmic way, our players are becoming very sophisticated about."

That might give the members of the National Basketball Players Association more appreciation for the role owners play in the success of their teams and, in total, the league. Then again, it puts entrepreneurs and now true businessmen on the other side of the table, careful not to leave behind an errant buck.

The league is in the midst of labor peace these days, but it's a fact of NBA life that, even when people aren't talking about the CBA, they're talking about the CBA. With a nine-year, $24 billion television right deal kicking in before the 2016-17 season, the NBA never has been in better financial health.

Old wounds from the 2011 lockout and strong competitive instincts might play considerable roles in the next round of CBA talks, but plenty of folks inside and outside the NBA hope there will be enough money to go around without rancor next time.

Both Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts have made comments in recent weeks suggesting a more amicable, potentially work-stoppage-free process. They have had several lunches at which they have discussed league business, while building what Silver called "a personal relationship" and a level of trust they hope to extend to their respective constituents.

"I remain optimistic in a general way," Silver said, "because things are going so well for team and for the players."

Silver has not repeated comments he made in July in Las Vegas, when he volunteered after the Board of Governors meetings there that "a significant number of teams" are losing money, despite a more favorable cut of revenue with the players (the union's share down from 57 percent to 51), the league's all-time popularity across all metrics and the soon-to-be-tripled TV money.

That triggered push-back from Roberts that equally rattled sabers, reminding reporters and fans of the league's robust economics and how central the players' role is to that.

Lately, such talk has been absent. "Maybe I learned my lesson last time in terms of the public discourse," Silver said Friday.

Commissioner Silver on Preseason Games

NBA commissioner Adam Silver says changes could come to the preseason schedule.

The commissioner said a necessary first step in advancing any smooth labor-talks timeline is "a full sharing of information about the state of the league, the state of the financials, the impact of the new television money."

Considering their heightened business acumen, his league's players would expect nothing less.

Among other topics during the BOG meetings Thursday and Friday:

-- Deputy commissioner Mark Tatum gave a presentation on the state of the league's business, with emphasis on the international preseason games. Kiki Vandeweghe, executive VP of basketball operations, reported on the increased use of the replay center in Secaucus, N.J., in a growing number of game situations.

-- Vandeweghe said the likelihood of adding advertising to game jerseys, in the form of corporate partners' names or logos, was discussed. But nothing will be implemented for this season.

-- Asked about the length of the NBA preseason and the number of tune-up games -- which has drawn some annual criticism from players and coaches -- Silver said the Governors did not address the topic this week but that some change probably is forthcoming. "There's a general sense right now that," Silver said "in this day and age when players are in condition all year round, you don't necessarily need an eight-game preseason. There still is a sense that training camp is very important -- we've got a lot of young players in the league, we've had maybe more movement than you had historically, so practice time is still important. [But] I think the expectation is we'll be reducing the number of preseason games."

-- Freeing up some time in October might help address another issue. To critics of the 82-game season as a cause of player injuries, Silver said: "With all the health science now that's going into an examination of the schedule, what we've concluded so far is the critical issue is fatigue, not necessarily the number of games played. ... It's less about necessarily reducing the number of games than spreading the schedule out to create more rest." The league already has reduced the number of back-to-back games for most teams and all but eradicated any four-in-five-night gauntlets.

Commissioner Silver on FanDuel

NBA commissioner Silver said his league will continue its partnership with FanDuel despite multiple investigations into industry trade practices and questions over the legality of the contests under federal and state gambling laws.

-- Silver said he was happy that San Antonio's Gregg Popovich had been chosen to be the next head coach of Team USA when Mike Krzyzewski steps down after the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. It was anticipated, he said, that USA Basketball would move back to an NBA coach, given that all players now are NBA veterans.

-- The commissioner cleared up what little confusion might have remained over future FIBA qualifying, which will begin to be scheduled during the NBA season. The league has informed the international governing body that no players or coaches will be pulled out of games -- nor will the NBA suspend its schedule -- to accommodate the FIBA qualifying. The NBA might have to send a team of surrogates from the D-League.

-- Silver reiterated his position on the league's involvement with daily fantasy Web sites, after addressing it earlier in the week. That industry has generated headlines in recent weeks, leading to investigation of its legality and business practices. But the NBA's small equity stake in FanDuel remains, representing a potentially huge new source of revenue, with Silver calling for federal regulation to maintain the gaming sites' integrity. "Our position hasn't changed," he said. "I continue to view it as a positive ... if fans want to engage in and enjoy it."

-- Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was elected to another one-year term as chairman of the Board of Governors.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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