Now that we're over three months into the NBA lockout, we've discussed the motivation of both sides at length, and criticized each appropriately. I've been hesitant to state a preference for either position from the beginning and continue to believe that there is plenty of blame for both the players and the owners.
But one thing I find difficult to ignore is that the players have tin ears when it comes to stating their case to the public. Their Twitter campaigns of "stand united" and "let us play" have bombed, and the reason is simple: for the most part, NBA players are unable to speak the language of the fans, and are too detached from our experiences to make an effective case.
The players aren't "fighting the power"; they are the power. That is, when you compare them to us fans.
In December of 2010, a fruit vendor in Tunisia sparked a regional uprising when he would no longer accept being victimized by his government. Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire late that month, in protest of yet another instance of corrupt Tunisian government representatives attempting to steal from him. Bouazizi died weeks later, and became a galvanizing symbol for the fight against oppression. The governments of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya fell in subsequent uprisings in the "Arab Spring."
I don't intend to bring politics into this conversation, but current events are not the same as politics, and current events are relevant to this discussion. In the last few weeks in the US, Occupy Wall Street has brought uprising to America: the 99% vs. the 1%, protesting against the growing income and wealth disparity between the top 1% of wealthy Americans and the rest of us.
When NBA players attempt to reach fans with slogans such as "let us play" and "we stand united", it might seem as if they will win support from the general public given the current environment of uprising. But, here's what they miss: the players are the 1%!
They aren't stealing from us. They make their money legitimately and with our consent. We watch the games and buy the merchandise. Yet still, players are overpaid by any objective measure.
The mean average NBA player salary for the 2010-2011 season was $5.15M. The median household income in the US, as of 2009, was $50K, as per the US Census. So the average NBA player's annual income is 100 times the average US household income.
We as fans don't normally resent this too much. Our entertainers entertain us in ways that aren't quantifiable. They should be paid more than the rest of us, we reason. No problem there. But when we see ourselves in the current situation, where players are fighting to hold on to the great riches they have, while the rest of the country struggles with unemployment and a sputtering stock market that compromises the value of our retirement accounts, it's hard to find support for them.
An NBA player holding strong in the lockout to maintain his and future players' income where it is instead of, say, an average salary of only $4M per year does not equate to the struggle of a laid off worker or that of a person who has had his home foreclosed. That NBA players don't seem to understand this is a bit insulting.
Is it fair that owners are pushing players hard to accept cuts in a mostly successful business? Probably not.
Is it fair that a player's skill of performing at a sport earns so much more money than what is made by teachers, firefighters, doctors and policemen? Absolutely not.
In the fight against unfairness, NBA players can take their place far in the back of the line.