Yes, Sportswriters Still Think Labor Mobility Is Stupid

Carmelo Anthony was traded to the New York Knicks last week, an outcome long anticipated by both the primary player and the teams involved. It’s unclear which team benefited most from this laundry swap, but Dr. Teeth fanboy Rick Reilly filed a column gnashing and wailing over the The State of the Game anyway. Playing the part of ownership shill, Reilly proclaims that the NBA’s ruination will come from  “very tall, very rich 20-somethings running the league from the backs of limos:”

The NBA used to work on a turn system. You will lose, but if you hang in there, you'll be rewarded with a very high draft pick like an Anthony, and your turn at glory will arrive.

Not anymore. The superstars are in charge now. Now, you lose and you get a pick, and that pick immediately starts texting his pals to see where they'll all wind up in three years. Pretty soon, you're back losing again.

Get ready, Oklahoma City.

LeBron James exploiting his relatively limited labor freedom and taking his talents to Miami last summer got this nonsensical argument going, and it makes no more sense now. There’s never been a “turn system” in the NBA: Only 12 teams have won a championship since the 1976 merger. Losing still leads to high picks, which often leads to players not worth a hoot, as Mr. Pervis Kwame Tractor Darko Olowokandi can attest.

Reilly advocates the NBA adopt a franchise tag so owners can hold on to their players year-by-year against their will. This is a step back toward the 1960s glory days when teams literally owned players for life and athletes kept their mouths shut. Good management will find good players and retain them as needed despite all of the distortions and inequities in the cartelized professional sports market. Just ask Oklahoma City.

More from Reason on the sports here.

Read about Curt Flood, the "Moses of free agency," and other freedom fighters here

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  • ||

    WTF? If the players don't like the way the NBA works, they can join a team in the ABA. You know, that whole free market of labor thing that Reason advocates in every other context but sports.

    It's amazing that Reason suddenly becomes The Daily Worker when talking about professional sports "labor".

  • ||

    I think the Reason angle here is that Rick is 'The Daily Worker' guy and Carmelo is the individual entering into a contract with the employer of his choice [within the confines of the byzantine NBA labour agreement]

  • ||

    That angle is wrong. Carmelo entered a contract with an NBA franchise, which is bound by the labor rules of the NBA. If he thinks those rules are too restrictive, he should quit and play for a different professional basketball league.

    I can't believe I'm having to explain this on a purportedly libertarian website.

  • ||

    He didn't break his contract. He let it be known he would not be re-signing with the team after his current contract expired, so they traded him.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    I can't believe I'm having to explain this on a purportedly libertarian website.
    Many of us think the same thing about red-light cameras.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    right to face acuser in court. Put a cop at the intersection if you want to give me a false ticket so I can blast him on the stand.

  • ||

    I guess DNA evidence is similarly inadmissible, since you can't question the sequencing machine in court.

  • ||

    Freedom of contract is a fundamental libertarian principle, no?

    I still haven't seen anyone link red light cameras to a violation of a libertarian principle.

  • Tank||

    I can't believe that you consider your view to be the libertarian one.

    Your arguments are assuming that the NBA is a single entity rather than 30 individual, colluding businesses. That the NBA is given anti-trust protection is wrong. And if we're going to allow basketball leagues to operate as single units, then the NBA and the original ABA definitely should not have been allowed to merge.

    A true free market wouldn't allow 30 employers get together and decide that only one (Denver) would be allowed to employ Carmelo Anthony back when he came out of Syracuse.

  • ||

    I think you are completely wrong. In a true free market, employers could enter into any contractual agreement they want with other employers. In or out of sports. Same between the employers and players. No use of force would be required for any of those contracts.

  •  ||

    A true free market wouldn't allow...

    What? Markets are not volitional entities. Markets are people acting together toward common goals and interests and should be free of government coercion and interference. If your "30 employers" want to form a club with silly (or sane) rules, who the hell am I (or you) to butt in? Just don't steal from me in the form of taxes and fees to support your little millionaire's club and we'll all get along just fine.

  • Tank||

    I'll concede, at least from a libertarian perspective, not an economic one. But how can libertarians be anti-union but pro-cartel?

  • ||

    Do you have to be anti-union to be libertarian? A majority of the problems with unions comes from regulations, particularly in the public sector. Private sector unions priced themselves out of the North American market, even with many regs tipped in their favour.

  • sevo||

    aix42|3.2.11 @ 7:09PM|#
    "Do you have to be anti-union to be libertarian?"

    Not AFAIK. But anti-government-protection of unions is pretty libertarian.
    Join the group you please, just don't ask the government to make me deal with that group.

  • ||

    It's not a cartel. A significant fraction of spectator basketball in the US is not controlled by the NBA. There is the "new" ABA, as well as college and high school hoops.

  • ||

    A true free market wouldn't have antitrust laws at all, so there would be no question of "allowing" the NBA and (old) ABA to merge.

  • cynical||

    At the same time, we don't have a free market, and excluding only certain entities from anti-competitive scrutiny (including unions, and also sports leagues) doesn't seem appropriate or fair.

  • ||

    A sports league is not like a marketplace of 30+ independent producers. The teams don't set their own schedules, don't decide who they want to play against, don't decide which referees work their games, don't decide how high the basket is, etc.

    We libertarians obviously have a problem with top-down dictatorial structures in government, but applying that distaste to a voluntary organization like a sports league is fundamentally mistaken.

  • ||

    No one disagrees with you, but you missed the point entirely: current NBA rules say Carmelo can go where he wants when he's a free agent and thus can technically force managers to make a trade to a team he wants or lose him for nothing if there is no team willing to sign him without an extension. If managers don't like it and want perpetual ownership of their players for the entirety of their NBA tenure, they are free to go start their own league with their own rules.

    If the league doesn't reach a collective bargaining agreement with the league and there's a lockout, we'll surely see these players go to other leagues or Europe.

    Reilly is certainly free to gripe about the free agency under the current CBA and advocate alternatives, but the current contractual agreement is what everybody is operating under consensually.

  • ||

    I don't buy it. Brokaw is tossing around buzzwords like "freedom" and "labor mobility" way too much for me to think he's just expressing a utilitarian difference of opinion.

  • ||

    Pro sports is a weird world. Fans and owners do seem to get possesive of 'thier' players.

    I wonder what Rick would have thought of SI not letting him go to ESPN because he was not a free agent, even though his contract was up.

  • ||

    After his contract was up, Anthony could have "taken his skills" to any non-NBA professional basketball league in the world (of which there are a crapload -- unlike MLB, the NBA is not a monopoly).

    It's more like an ESPN journalist not being able to sign with ABC Sports after his contract is up, because the conglomerate to which they both belong does not allow it. He's still free to sign with anyone else outside the Disney-ABC conglomerate.

  • ||

    I was speaking more to the concept that many sportwriters and fans do not like players choosing where they play and would prefer that players stay with their teams.

    Carmelo could have gone anywhere within the NBA after his contract expired in the summer.

  • silent v||

    Maybe or maybe not. Had Carmelo stayed in Denver, he would be subject to the next CBA which could very well include a franchise tag.

  • ||

    His contract would have had to be signed under the new CBA. I don't think the NBA Union would agree to a tag that could be placed on those whose contracts expired under the old CBA.

  • Invisible Finger||

    unlike MLB, the NBA is not a monopoly

    You'll have to explain that one, parenthetical or not.

  • ||

    Are you unfamiliar with the definition of "monopoly"?

    The spectator basketball industry also includes the ABA2000, WNBA, and NCAA, among others.

  • ||

    Japanese baseball is a non-factor to you? Or it only makes a difference when MLB teams pay exorbitant salaries to Japanese players?

  • ||

    If you have to leave the country to find a competitor, it's essentially a monopoly.

  • Bee Tagger||

    Also .... this Oklahoma City?

  • ||

    Dr. Teeth fanboy Rick Reilly

    "Too true. Too true. It is indeed a problem for us to probosculate upon. But it seems to me the frog and the bear are temporarily out of service."

  • ||

    Good management will find good players and retain them as needed despite all of the distortions and inequities in the cartelized professional sports market. Just ask Oklahoma City.

    ...or San Antonio.

  • Terr||

    Much better example. The Spurs' front office has some extraordinary people maintaining a playoff and championship-caliber team in a relatively small market. Go Spurs Go.

  • Paul||

    I skimmed the NBA draft busts article... one team kept coming up: The Warriors.

  • ||

    Even my Wife knows the Warriors suck

  • ||

    There's a reason they're no longer in the league.

  • ||

    Wait... they're still in the league???

  • Matrix||

    who?

  • Almanian||

    The Warrios was a really fun movie, though

  • nobody||

    Rick Reilly is a bore. He is the worst.

  • ||

    The worst? Really? Here is my rebuttal.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Mitch Albom. Carl Hiaasen.
    What the fuck is it with newspapermen who write novels?

  • Citizen Nothing||

    And I'm guessing Albom and Hiaasen are The Two People I'll Meet in Hell.

  • nobody||

    You're right. The 'worst' could rightly be applied to too many sportswriters. As Matt Welch often points out, this guy is terrible. http://articles.ocregister.com.....yers-drugs

  • ||

    Mitch Albom aside, you can't get much worse than Bill Plaschke.

  • Almanian||

    Albom is a complete douche. I wish he were from Chicago or New York instead of Detroit so I could hate him even more.

  • ||

    Speaking of running things from the back of a limo, anyone else read the Daily Caller hitpiece on Sheila Jackson Lee? She may be the most unpleasant person on earth. Truely the boss from hell.

    http://dailycaller.com/2011/03...../#comments

  • silent v||

    Only 12 teams have won a championship since the 1976 merger.

    It's actually worse than that as three of those 12 teams (Portland, Seattle and Washington) won the first three years of the post-merger era and have not been heard from again.

    And that is exactly what is wrong with the NBA. Nine teams in 30 years. And the willingness of the best NBA players to group themselves into a few all-star teams is going to make it worse.

    Not that that justifies limiting a player's employment options, but I think it might be in the players (as a whole) best interest to have some sort of franchise system that keeps all 30 teams (and all 450 roster spots) viable.

  • sevo||

    "but I think it might be in the players (as a whole) best interest "

    The New Soviet Man doesn't play hoops.

  • ||

    What this issue really needs are some congressional hearings. Held in Hawaii.

  • DJF||

    I think that as long was we separate the taxpayer from subsiding sports then the management and players can figure out what they want to do without costing people like me who don’t care about other people playing sports money.

  • ||

    I agree with everything DJF says except his spelling of subsidizing.

  • DJF||

    I am just a free spirit when it comes to spelling.

  • Ragin Cajun||

    DJF, have you met John?

  • ||

    Hey, subsiding sports has a good ring to it too.

  • ||

    And, of course, Question Number One is: What would this idiot have to say if his paper put the whammy on every deal he tried to make which might improve his lot in life?

  • H man||

    Isn't this really complaining that a person should have the right to chose which Mcdonald's franchise a person wants to work for. Ultimately the work rules are set up by the McDonald's corporation or in this case the NBA. Don't like it work for Burger King or play in Europe.

  • ||

    What bothers Rick is that Carmelo controlled his destiny, rather than the Nuggets.

    Carmelo was free to go to Europe after his contract expired, or he could have applied to Burger King. Instead the Nuggets got something instead of nothing by trading him.

    Rick Reilly would prefer that Carmelo have no say where he plays.

  • ||

    So Rick Reilly wants some kind of system where owners can trade their players amongst themselves; and the players will perform certain duties for their new owners, but the players will have no say in how they are dealt or where they are delivered.

    I can't help but feel some sort of deja vu here.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    The NBA used to work on a turn system. You will lose, but if you hang in there, you'll be rewarded with a very high draft pick like an Anthony, and your turn at glory will arrive.

    Non. Fucking. Sense.

    The Celtics have won approximately 28% of NBA Championships in history. The Lakers have won approximately 27%.

    What is this 'turn system' Reilly imagines to exist when two teams out 23 are 55% likely to win the NBA championship between them?

  • ||

    Have you thought it's because the Lakers and the Celtics might be better managed than, say, the Clippers and Timberwolves? For example, San Antonio constantly drafts high quality players low in the draft who become strong contributors (Manu was second round).

    Also, that doesn't mean most teams haven't been competitive for title chances at some point over the past 30 years. Have any of these teams never made the playoffs? I don't believe that to be the case, and if you are in the playoffs, you can't say you've never had the chance to win it all simply because your players never got it done. Management is a big part in your success, and even small market teams could succeed with a good manager. The Bucks, Hornets and Grizzlies are three of the four least valuable teams and all should probably make the playoffs this year.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    So the Bulls only had good management during the 90s when they dominated the NBA championship? That's interesting. However the Celtics and the Lakers still dominate the league when it comes to just getting to the Finals and not winning (52 combined Finals appearances). In the 60 year history of the NBA title, there have only been 8 occasions in which a Celtic team or a Laker team was not in contention. The Lakers will win about half the time they show up, the Celtics are damn near a lock every single time.

    As far as the Celtics go, remember that while they drafted Manu in the second round, Tim Duncan was a first round pick. And keep Coach Pop in mind in your overall calculus of the Spurs' recent successes first as a general manager, then as the coach.

    The last time the Bucks even got a peek at the promised land was in the 70s. You might as well put that money you were thinking about betting on the Bucks in the toilet and give it a good flush.

  • CE||

    The Spurs lucked into it though. David Robinson was injured the season before they drafted Tim Duncan, or they would have had a much better record.

  • Russ 2000||

    The Bucks, Hornets and Grizzlies are three of the four least valuable teams and all should probably make the playoffs this year.

    The fans of the 6,7, and 8 seeds don't even consider the first round of the playoffs worth the expense and bother of buying tickets.

  • ||

    G. Churchill Francis
    Sports writer.
    gilbert@nasguard.com

    Wise Men Settles In The East

    It is said that wise men comes from the east and settles in the West. However, following the NBA All-Star break, two (2) wise NBA players from the Denver Nuggets, did the opposite, of what the three wise men followed to Bethlehem… them they found a Savior.

    Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups are wise men in my opinion, and their understanding of the NBA’s "Wild-Wild" West for this season’s championship run, will be a terror in the West.

    They knew the Denver Nuggets had but a “snow ball chance in hell” to survive the wrath of the San Antonio's Spurs with its great coaching, the brilliant Greg Popovich, added with the terror or Tim Duncan, Manu Ginóbili, Tony Parker and company. The Spurs are very focus this year, and I would go on record to say we will see them in the NBA Finals, if the Savior does not tarry.

    Yes, Carmelo and Chauncey are shrewd men.
    I consider these wonderful men brilliant because they are aware, that even if the get over the terror of the Spurs, they would have to face the wrath of the most feared in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers.

    In spite of being questionable and stumbling into the All-Star break, the Lakers are once again playing like a title contender, with its legendary and best ever coach the “Zen Master” Phil Jackson. Their success are always unpredictable.
    However, I assume Melo and Billups are must concern of the wrath of the Triangle offense and a form of the “Venus Fly Trap” defense that the venomous "Black Mamba" Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Artest, Odom, Fish, and company, seems to unveil only in big games.

    Melo and Billups need not feel ashamed, for they have taken the easy road like many others: Amare Stoudemire, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and many more.
    I also consider LeBron James and the Great Charles Barkley men of wisdom for staying very long in the.. EASY East.

  • ||

    Carmelo was pretty good to his employer. He made it clear to the Nuggets he was not going to resign so they were able to get something in return for him before his contract was up. That's better than me giving my two weeks notice by a long shot.

  • Hugh Akston||

    You gave two weeks notice? I just set fire to a trash can.

  • Almanian||

    Nice!

  • Ragin Cajun||

    taking his talents to Miami

    South Beach. He said he is taking his talents to South Beach. Get it right! For a magazine called Reason,...

  • ||

    thanks for the drink!

  • ¢||

    Playing the part of ownership shill

    Incidentally.

    With maybe one living exception, basketball writers fuckin' hate NBA players. That often puts them on the side of management, or finds them using its arguments, but that's not what it's about. ("Access" is a factor, of course, and players don't control that.)

    An NBA reporter's job is to watch genetic-lottery morons (and Tim Duncan) live out a sports nerd's fantasy life every day. So he'll lash out how he can. Lockout/strike threat stories are an obvious opening.

    Plus, sports media is pretty much an East Coast college-boy thing, so there's a lot of ill-concealed ship-'em-back racist shit flying around, too. "Very tall," wink.

  • prolefeed||

    unlike MLB, the NBA is not a monopoly

    None of the professional sports leagues are monopolies. There are teams outside MLB who will pay talented people to play baseball. Anyone is free to start up their own league, and there are existing leagues.

    Now, if by "monopoly", you mean "no other existing league pays their stars as well", then maybe you need to look up the definition of that word.

  • Almanian||

    And bring back the XFL - I loved that "HE HATE ME" guy! Fucking XFL was almost as good as the scab football during the last NFL strike...almost.

  • ||

    Or almost as good as the Lions have been for the last decade....almost.

  • Almanian||

    As a Lions "fan", that should hurt me deeply, sloopy. But it does not, for we Lions "fans" are immune to pain, having suffered a lifetime of suckitude exceeded - perhaps - only by the collective sports franchises of Cleveland.

  • ||

    Hey, you guys beet the world champs this year.

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    Nope, Cleveland blows, but the Lions are 0-16.

  • ||

    My favorite alternative leagues were the USFL and the ABA.

  • Russ 2000||

    This is my favorite thing about the ABA (from wikipedia):

    In the summer of 1976, with the ABA at the point of financial collapse after nine years, the six surviving franchises... began negotiating a merger with the NBA. But the senior circuit decided to accept only four teams from the rival league: the Nets (the last ABA champion), Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs.

    The NBA placated John Y. Brown, owner of the Kentucky Colonels, by giving him a $3.3 million settlement in exchange for shutting his team down. (Brown later used much of that money to buy the Buffalo Braves of the NBA.) But the owners of the Spirits, the brothers Ozzie and Dan Silna, struck a prescient deal to acquire future television money from the teams that joined the NBA, a one-seventh share from each franchise, in perpetuity. With network TV deals becoming more and more lucrative, the deal has made the Silnas wealthy, earning them $186 million as of 2008, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. (The NBA nearly succeeded in buying out the Silnas in 1982 by offering $5 million over eight years, but negotiations stalled when the siblings demanded $8 million over five.) On June 27, 2007, it was extended for another eight years, ensuring another $100 million-plus windfall for the Silnas. Presently, the Silnas receive $14.57 million a year, despite being owners of a team that hasn't played one minute of basketball in 35 years.

  • ||

    Now that, that's a good deal. And that's a better story than the red, white, and blue ball.

  • ||

    Whatever. It doesn't affect my argument...my point was that NBA is not a monopoly.

  • ||

    Good management will find good players and retain them as needed despite all of the distortions and inequities in the cartelized professional sports market. Just ask Oklahoma City.

    It's as much because of as despite.

    The salary cap (another restriction on Reason's newfound cause of LABOR FREEDOM!!!!1!!!!) is what keeps the NBA, NFL, and NHL from having the gross inequality of opportunity that exists in MLB.

  • poor||

    A bunch of old white guys wishing they had more ownership over strong african american males... THE MORE THINGS CHANGE...

  • CE||

    The NBA would be better off, and more fun to watch, if they just got rid of the salary cap and the draft completely. Let the best teams and the richest owners compete for the best players, and try all out to win -- stop handicapping the owners who care about winning and stop subsidizing the lousy ones. A few teams would probably go broke every few years, but creative destruction is a good thing.

  • CE||

    The NBA would be better off, and more fun to watch, if they just got rid of the salary cap and the draft completely. Let the best teams and the richest owners compete for the best players, and try all out to win -- stop handicapping the owners who care about winning and stop subsidizing the lousy ones. A few teams would probably go broke every few years, but creative destruction is a good thing.

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