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At a late hour I will comment on the NBA labor dispute

November 14, 2011

It’s looking less and less likely that an NBA season will take place this year amid labor strife and and an apparent inability of the owners and players to agree on who should be making what percentage of the billions that the league draws in each year. This is very stupid of them.

I say this because if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about the lack of an NBA season thus far it’s that I’ve barely even noticed it. In fact, I’m only even writing this because of a tweet I happened across the other night by sports writer and ESPN contributor J.A. Adande about the whole affair. Here’s what he said:

It’s amazing to me how opposed to individual freedom so many Americans are when it comes to sports


Individual freedom is something I think about a lot, and I’m sad to say that Adande has this all wrong. Nothing in this “labor” dispute suggests to me that these NBA players suffer for a lack of freedom. They are, in fact, completely free to play in the NBA or not as they see fit. To suggest that not having any other choices – such as the ability to dictate the terms of your contract or to play on whatever team you want to – somehow lessens the freedom that all sports professionals already enjoy is simply foolish.

I have a job, and for this job I’m paid a salary. It’s not a bad job, nor is it a bad salary relative to other salaries of people in similar positions who do what I do. However, I certainly wouldn’t mind getting paid more (who would?). I thus have some choices:

  1. Keep my current job and current salary. I like my job, and I make a decent living – so this isn’t a bad choice.
  2. Ask for a raise at my current job so that I will make more money doing it. We get raises every year, so to ask for one would’t get me very far. But it’s still a choice I have.
  3. Quit my job and find one that pays better for a different company or in a different industry. Again, it’s a choice I have, though one I have no intention of making.

Because I have these choices I would consider myself having the appropriate level of individual freedom when it comes to my professional life.

And the thing is, NBA players have all of the same choices themselves already. One and two are a given, and that number three isn’t exactly feasible for them – they work for the basketball league that pays the most money in the world already – isn’t the NBA owners’ problem. These players aren’t exactly working for pennies here. And, of course, this is exactly why most people are like me and don’t much care what happens in the NBA labor dispute. It turns out Millionaires vs. Billionaires just isn’t all that compelling to most of us.

Because of all this, it seems that these players (and to a lesser extent, Adande) are making a terrible mistake in believing that because we like to watch them play, we actually care what happens to them off the court. In short, and not to be cruel, we don’t. The vast majority of us sports fans are not “die-hards” for the NBA. We enjoy the games, but don’t really miss them when they aren’t on. And as it turns out, the NBA can’t make a living on die-hards alone. They need the casual fan who makes up most of the audience. Far, far more than we need them.

Freedom is an ability to choose your own path, not dictate every turn your life makes. If the players don’t like the path they’re on, they can certainly go work for a gas station instead. Or not to, of course. That’s their choice too.

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