In an interesting, if not completely convincing, turn of events, The New York Times published a long blog post charging the NBA with cooking its books to claim losses when the league actually was profitable as recently as the 2009-2010 season.
The Times is the paper of record, and even if this post didn't appear in the paper, it does carry the weight of being a product of their editorial staff. That would lead you to believe there's some validity to the claims. Here's the problem, though, the post relies solely on work done by other publications, namely Forbes and Financial World. I'd love to see the Times blow the lid off this whole thing by doing some investigative reporting, but piggybacking on the work done by a publication known for its charticles doesn't really cut it.
The NBA released an immediate response both to the Times piece as well as statements made by the players' union spokesman Dan Wasserman. The league basically said Forbes never had access to their books, and they have no idea what their methodology is for their calculations, but their numbers are wrong. Wasserman's most recent claims center around the fact that the league projected devastating losses in 2009-2010, then wound up backtracking on those projections.
At the end of the day, we don't have access to the league's books so it's hard to say who's being truthful with any certainty, but here's the thing: The union does have the books, the audited books. With that information in their back pockets, the best the union rep can come up with is a half-assed argument about missed projections, not the actual numbers which they have, but projections.
A couple notable lines from the two stories:
- From the ESPN article: "The Times story was based on estimates prepared by Forbes and Financial World magazines. Bass said Tuesday the information was inaccurate, saying Forbes "does not have the financial data for our teams and the magazine's estimates do not reflect reality." The league added it believed Financial World had gone out of business."
- From the NY Times blog post: "So why are N.B.A. owners seeking such significant reductions in player salaries, reportedly to about 45 percent of league revenues? The simple reason is that they think they can -- and this reflects an awful lot of money. If salaries were reduced to 45 percent of revenues, this would save the owners roughly $500 million per year, or about $3 billion over the course of a six-year labor contract. It is hard to estimate either the near or the long-term cost of cancelling a season, but the potential gain from a more favorable contract is large enough that it is something the owners might be willing to risk."
That article from the Times is the rub. The players are going to lose money when the new CBA is signed, everyone knows this. If the season isn't played, not only are they going to lose money in the deal, they're going to lose a full year of wages. The owners, collectively, won't be losing any more money than they would if they played, and they've got a pot of gold waiting for them at the end of the lockout. It must seem like I'm beating a dead horse by now, but none of these stories is doing anything to shift even an iota of negotiating power to the union.