David Stern is a lawyer at heart, so he knows how to pick and choose his words carefully. When things are going well, they are historic and record-breaking and when things are looking down, he always delivers an optimistic outlook. Spin is Stern’s best friend, which is why he refuses to call the $200 million loan his league received this week a bailout. It’s the same way Alex Rodriguez refuses to call the stuff he was taking steroids.
But make no mistake about, the cash injection JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America has provided for the NBA isn’t just some budget enhancer; it’s a temporary life preserver for about a dozen franchises. Teams will at least be able to make payroll for the rest of this season, while they attempt to implement more cost-cutting measures for next year.
"It's exactly the opposite" (of a bailout), Stern said yesterday. "This was a show of strength in the creditworthiness of the NBA's teams. It's a great sign of confidence in us.”
No Commissioner, it’s actually a red flag that shows almost half the teams in your league are in danger of going belly up. Give credit to ESPN’s Bill Simmons because he has been all over this mess for two weeks, both on his podcasts and now in a column. The Sports Guy points to the league losing major sponsors, teams practically giving away tickets and the number of dark suites in arenas across the country as signs the NBA is on the verge of a full-fledged crisis.
For the foreseeable future, many franchises are going to focus solely on breaking even, so much so that producing a quality product on the court will become an afterthought. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call, Major League Baseball.
Only baseball has the advantage of having the entire season to itself, so even as Americans are staring at a Depression, they still might be willing to take in a ball game this summer in attempt to bring back some form of normalcy to their lives. The NBA isn’t so lucky. It competes head on with the NFL for the first half of its season and then March Madness and baseball are right there during the stretch run.
The average fan barely had the budget for NBA tickets before the recession, so now attending games becomes even less of an option. And when the league can no longer turn to suits to fill the seats and corporations to fill the seats, trouble ensues.
And it’s only going to get worse. What happened this week wasn’t just a bailout for 12 teams.
It was just the first bailout for the NBA.