Lessons from the NBA Lockout: Union Democracy, Public Support, and the Folly of the National Basketball Players Association
73 Pages Posted: 17 May 2014
Date Written: May 15, 2014
By most accounts, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) — the union representing the players in the NBA — conceded a significant amount of money and other contractual terms in the new ten-year collective bargaining agreement (2011 Agreement) that ended the 2011 NBA lockout. Player concessions were predictable because the NBA’s economic structure desperately needed an overhaul. The magnitude of such concessions, however, was startling. The substantial changes in the division of basketball-related income, contract lengths and amounts, salary cap provisions, and revenue sharing rendered the NBA lockout — and the resulting 2011 Agreement — a near-complete victory for the owners. Several interpretations have been offered to explain the lopsided deal, including the financial strain on players during the lockout and the players’ emotional reactions to the negotiations. These justifications are intriguing, particularly in light of the racial overtones that marked the entire process. These explanations have significant merit, but they fail to completely account for why the NBA players agreed to such drastically unfavorable terms. This article provides a fuller analysis of how this surprising result came about. In doing so, it takes an interdisciplinary approach using communications and industrial relations scholarship that highlights the critical importance of intra-union communications, public relations campaigns, and union democracy. Through this analysis, this article not only assesses the missteps of the NBPA during the NBA lockout, but also provides guidance to professional sports unions for future collective bargaining negotiations during periods of labor unrest.
Keywords: National Basketball Players Association, sports law, unions, labor, collective bargaining, contracts, lockout
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