Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November 1, 2011: NBA Should Learn From Baseball's Bitter Lesson

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It is a special irony that baseball should celebrate a most glorious time while basketball is enduring its most miserable time.

The most exciting World Series and postseason in years capped off a season with plenty of milestones for Major League Baseball. While it's never possible to know if testing technology is keeping up with the players, the sport seems to have shaken the clouds brought by steroids. In addition, it seems owners and players will quietly reach a deal to extend the collective bargaining agreement.

Not so with the National Basketball Association, which has already cancelled games through the next two weeks. The atmosphere between owners, who have locked out players, and the players' union is poisonous - and there are splits within the two groups themselves over whether to get a deal done.

As far as most of the public is concerned, the battle is billionaires versus billionaires. But the biggest cost is not to the owners, players or even fans: It's to the owners and employees of support businesses - hotels, restaurants, sporting goods stores and so forth - that feed off NBA teams. Those businesses could see layoffs and even closures because of the lockout. And no deal between owners and players will reverse that.

If owners and players think they can automatically gain back public goodwill when they finally do reach an agreement, they should look back 16 years. From August, 1994 to April, 1995, baseball endured a strike that cost a World Series and the future of baseball in Montreal, among other casualties - not to mention connecting businesses still recovering from the early 1990s recession.

The memory of that strike has lingered. Given the current economic crisis, the resentment of the NBA situation could go even deeper. Basketball's owners and players should learn baseball's lessons of 1994-95.