Locked Out NBA Players Should Use The Leverage Available To Them

Something about sports-related labor disputes seems to make people go insane, which I think is the best possible explanation for Stephen A Smith’s argument that it’s “selfish” of Deron Williams to agree to play basketball for money in Turkey and that his doing so will damage the players’ unity and undermine their bargaining position. The truth is quite obviously the reverse.

As a reminder, the situation is that NBA teams are owned by rich businessmen who would like to become richer. They believe they can enrich themselves by paying their workers less. So with the current collective bargaining agreement expiring, they’re refusing to pay anyone or play any basketball games until players agree to accept a smaller share of NBA revenue. Williams would, I’m confident, be thrilled to play basketball for money as an employee of the New Jersey Nets, but currently the owners are refusing to let him do so. Agreeing to play basketball for money as an employee of a non-NBA professional basketball team is no more or less selfish than any other course of action available to him. Meanwhile, the ability to go play abroad is an important source of leverage for the players. NFL franchises are essentially monopsony purchasers of professional basketball labor. The NBA, while by far the most lucrative professional basketball league in the world, is just one of many. Every player who responds to the lockout by making alternate working arrangements is strengthening the bargaining position of the union by emphasizing that though payers would obviously prefer to play in the NBA, they’re not in a position of total dependence on the owners.