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Prepare For The Worst: An In Depth Look At The NBPA's Lockout Handbook

by Photo of Moke Hamilton

Handbook shows how the NBPA expected the current lockout and how to handle the ramifications of the layoff

September is here. And the truth is, you'd probably know it even if you didn't have a calendar at your disposal. The days are getting shorter, and long summer scorchers are regressing into lengthy warm evenings. 

September is here. Inevitably, that means that Yankees fans are enjoying another pennant race. Rex Ryan is promising Jets fans that this year will be “the year,” and Eli Manning continues to make headlines—for one reason or another.

Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving and the other 59 members of the NBA's 2011 NBA Draft class are caught in the middle of a labor dispute which threatens to wipe out their rookie seasons. 

Wanna see Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, or Amar'e Stoudemire?  You can forget about NBA.com, because more action is happening on the playgrounds of New York and in gymnasiums in Los Angeles, D.C. and—soon—Las Vegas. Fortunately for the players, the digital information age and YouTube era have empowered them. Unlike the Summer of 1998, the players and the NBPA have effective means by which they may send messages to and interact with fans.

Better yet, the players have had the ability to showcase their talents and their pick up games and actually use the internet to create leverage in their labor negotiations. Although they lack the marketing power and television deals that the NBA can boast, the internet has helped to level the playing field, somewhat. The latest has it that NBA players are considering organizing pickup games and tournaments in Las Vegas and streaming them to fans via the Internet. Unlike the streetball games we've been seeing thus far, players would actually be sharing in profits. Here, you see, are two things the NBA wouldn't like. Players in Las Vegas, and players making money.

Coincidentally, as the lockout drags on and whispers of player organization grow louder, the negotiations between the NBA and NBPA toward a new collective bargaining agreement have picked up. This could be a result of the NBA beginning to take the threat of the NBPA and its members' ability to mobilize and market themselves seriously. And it's all been done via the internet.

The NBA hasn't just locked their players out. They blacked them out. Literally. But instead of sitting back and watching its union fracture, the players have gone on the offensive and mobilized. The league may have blacked them out, but the players were warned by Billy Hunter… “Pack your flashlights.”

As the NBPA gears up for what hopes to be their most productive bargaining month in years—September 1 through October 1—Billy Hunter and the NBPA's Executive Board can certainly say this:

Told ya so!

Back in March of 2011, the NBPA equipped most of its 400 plus member union with Lockout Handbooks. The advice on the front cover: 

“Hope for the Best. Prepare for the Worst.”

Fortunately, I got my hands on a copy of found its messages and commentary to be quite interesting. Certainly, there were suggestions that seemed simple enough. For example, the handbook encourages players to refrain from purchasing cars or signing leases for rental property until they “know what [their] finances look like.”

But reading between the lines and connecting dots is where the real fun begins. Billy Hunter confirms that he's been privately warning players to prepare for a lockout for more than two years. Want more? How about the fact that—on the NBPA's advice—many players that signed new contracts within the past two years have negotiated for deferred payments so that they could actually receive checks during the lockout? Throughout the handbook, references are made to the fact that some players will continue receiving checks until November 1st, 2011.
 
(Under normal circumstances, NBA players are paid bi-monthly on the 1st and 15th of each month. Payments normally begin on November 1st and end on May 1st. Thanks to the union's advice, a healthy portion of the union's members deferred half of their compensation so that they would continue to receive checks up until THIS November 1st).

And of course, nothing would better prepare the NBA's 400 plus players for a lockout than giving them a visual timeline of important dates:

For example, in the handbook, July 1st, October 1st, and November 1st are listed as the respective dates upon which the lockout begins, the pre-season is canceled, and regular season games begin being canceled on a rolling basis. 

As per the timeline, doomsday is November 15th. On this date, players who negotiated deferred payments with their clubs will miss a check for the first time. Meanwhile, the players who didn't—and stopped receiving checks back on May 1st—would miss an expected check for the first time.

By January 7th, 2012, if no agreement is in place, the handbook says that the NBA would likely cancel the entire 2011-2012 season, and unfortunately, July 1, 2012 is listed as the date on which the lockout would enter its second year.

For fans, the possibility of the lockout lasting more than a calendar year is disconcerting. For the players who depend on this income to support their families, however, it is devastating.

But knowledge is power, and power can be found in preparation. That's what the entire lockout handbook is about.

For the handbook, the NBPA solicited input from members of the upper, middle, and lower class of NBA players, and ultimately provided insightful, simple advice on how to handle any and everything players spend their money on. Mortgages and rent? The NBPA says to consider refinancing if it makes sense for you, and NOT to renew the leases on any rental properties that are not one's primary residence. New car? Forget it! According to the NBPA, “Spending a significant amount of cash on a car that loses between 20 and 30 percent of its value the second it's driven off the lot is unwise.”

Clothes, jewelry, vacations, gambling, and “entourage” are all things that the NBPA advises its members to simply do without in advance of the lockout. Again, it's worth noting that this handbook was initially distributed to the union members in March 2011, but began actually being created in late 2010. Privately, I've heard that the union has been educating and warning its members about the value of their dollars as far back as 2005. 

Certainly, by mid 2010, Billy Hunter was convinced that the lockout was inevitable and began suggesting that players “reduce” their overhead, even if it meant “reevaluating” the relationships that they maintained with their lawyers, financial planners, paid advisors, chefs, landscapers, publicists, and agents. 

Apparently, some of the league's well renowned players employ full time security guards and staff. In the handbook, the union suggests hiring security only when necessary, and pay them hourly. And if things are really tight, the handbook offers some more simple advice: STAY HOME. Sure, that security expense can stay in your pocket, but so can the the hundreds of dollars one would have spent on dinner and wine at a nice restaurant. 

The handbook also contains good information on how the players should interact with the media. It even goes as far as to refer to Kenny Anderson, a former player who brought some unwanted attention to the players and their mindset during the lockout of 1998-99. Anderson famously joked about the entire ordeal and suggested that he would be fine during the lockout since he could easily sell one of his many luxury cars.

The handbook provides: “The message we present to the media and the fans will affect the outcome of the lockout… Especially today, in the age of electronic media and social networking, each player must be extremely sensitive every time he makes any statement related to our labor struggle.” Thereafter, the handbook goes as far as listing talking points, data, and “suggestions” for what players should say to the media.

Case and point: “To lockout is the owner's decision and choice.” Or, the fact that there was a “huge increase in new season ticket sales – up 60% from 7/09-7/10.”

The handbook concludes by providing contact information for other employees of the NBPA—mainly, career coaches and financial planners—that are available to assist the players on planning for and adjusting to life during the lockout.

In closing, the NBPA requests that its members “…be mindful that we are now entering a critical phase of our negotiations…it is imperative now that we stand united and speak with one voice whenever possible.”

Reading the handbook and digesting its contents show that the NBPA has done its best to prepare the players for the lockout by providing some simple money management tips, intelligent talking points to discuss with the media, and contact information for individuals who can help during the lockout. Best of all, the contents of this handbook will serve as a stark reminder to veterans and rookies alike: Basketball is not promised. 

“You won't be playing forever. Think about what you would do if you were unable to play.”                  

“Prepare for the worst.” 

After all, it is better to have and not need than to need and not have.

As we approach October 1st, there is much more dialogue between the NBPA and the NBA. It seems that there is finally some urgency on both sides to get a deal done. Even still, the NBPA seems prepared to lose a season rather than accept what it considers to be an unfair deal, especially if that unfair deal comes with a very lengthy term. 

More importantly, many who are involved in the process know that the players want a new CBA, and believe that at least a third of the league's owners would be willing to continue playing under a system very similar to the recently expired one.

Will the NBA and the NBPA reach a new agreement soon enough as to avoid any game cancellations? 

That remains to be seen. And to THAT, we are all witnesses.

So, while the MLB polishes off its regular season, and the NFL gears up to begin its own… All eyes are on the NBA and its labor strife. The two sides will only reach a new deal with some give and take. 

It's time to end the posturing and finger pointing. It's time to end the hard line stances. It's time for both sides to face certain realities and negotiate with one another.

July is over. August is gone.

And today, in September, if the season is to start on time, it's now or never.


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