Orange ball, red ink: the NBA’s surprising financial losses

David Nelson’s recent blog entry addressed a rather surprising revelation by David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Commissioner Stern says that the NBA lost $370 million last season, and has lost $200 million in each of the prior 4 seasons. This adds up to well over $1 billion in losses over the past five seasons.

David Nelson is, of course, writing from the perspective of a Seattle resident, and thus includes a less-than-flattering reference to the Oklahoma City Thunder (which were formerly the Seattle Supersonics). David also makes reference to the possibility of an NBA lockout on or about 2011 July 01 should no new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) be reached, which is echoed in this story printed in USA Today.

This is a scary thought for sports fans with relatively fresh memories of the NHL’s lockout which resulted in the cancellation of a full season (the 2004-05 season), as well as the NBA’s abbreviated 1998-99 season which was also due to a lockout.

To say it would be unfortunate to lose even part of the 2011-12 NBA season would be an understatement. We should remember a large part of reason the NHL lost a whole season, however, was the stubborn refusal of the NHLPA to believe that the owners were telling the truth about how much money was being lost. And no offense intended to hockey fans or players, but I’d like to think NBA players are smart enough to reach a reasonable agreement.

I understand the frustrations of some of the public, basketball fans or not, who take a very dim view of two rival groups of millionaires squabbling (and I say this as public perception, even though a number of rookie NBA players do not qualify as millionaires in the strict sense). I think it is unfortunate that these types of labor disputes happen, but they happen everywhere; it’s just that in professional sports, they get much more publicity due to the large fan base.