Big league team owners are people too. They are wealthy people, who have business empires to run and pensions to fund, but people none the less. They are also competitive, although they are not necessarily sportsmen. Therefore, they are prone to making the decision to take their ball and go home, if they feel slighted. And that is how Caron Butler saved the big leagues. Still not clear?
The good news is that the numbers are in, and people love their pro sports on tv! Wait; is that good news? The ratings for the NBA finals are up. Way up. The same for the NHL. The numbers can be sliced and diced any which way, but it is good for both the NHL and NBA that two larger markets long absent from the finals had teams competing in the last game (though some more than others), and compelling storylines abound in both cases, keeping the teams on front pages, putting ‘Burrows’ and ‘Barea’ on lips that had never known them before. At the expiration of the collective bargaining agreements of both leagues, the pie to be divvied up is growing, so perhaps both sides in both negotiations will be in a mood more conducive to deals than they would otherwise be. Each sport also has had a potentially disturbing trend rising, both having ramifications on the relationship between salary-cap and financial regulations in general, and the ability of teams to compete.
In the NHL, contracts with bizarre lengths of duration have been proliferating, and Roberto Luongo’s is a prime example. The slap on the wrists of the New Jersey Devils for this goes part of the way towards addressing this silly trend, but the total collapse under pressure of a trio of stars, one of whom possesses this team-finance-strangling deals, will do even more. It will hold forth the Boston model of building patiently through the draft and US College signings and annually fleecing the Toronto Maple Leafs, rather than just throwing the most money at the biggest names. In the NBA, a trio of players tried to decide the trophy by collaborating. They failed, and now the clock is on Chris Bosh’s knees and ankles. If they had won, it would not only have signaled the possible beginning of a dynasty, but also virtually guaranteed the construction of at least one or two more ‘superfriends’ teams, all in ‘major markets’ where the promise of the most sponsorship money is found. Remembering that the Knicks and Lakers, the Mavs and Bulls were already not going to be the ‘hard line’ teams in the CBA negotiation, teams like Utah and Portland would be faced with an easier decision to cancel games if they felt their chances of winning the title had been foreclosed on already. This may seem unrealistically petty, until you consider that the average playoff series nets each team several million in revenue, while most of their costs remain fixed. NBA teams that don’t get out of the first round must have unusual circumstances to turn a profit each year.
Why does it matter that the Heat lost? Because the NBA’s middle markets were on the brink of joining the smallest markets in an epic fit of whining, as they became all too painfully aware that their chances of winning it all had been reduced to nil for the foreseeable future. But the Heat didn’t win, and as his team won Caron Butler in a suite was the most cut-too fan of all. He’s also a two-time all star, younger than a couple of the lynchpins, and relatively capable of defending Dwayne Wade or LeBron James. More so than say Jason Terry, or Dirk.
So there Caron Butler will be, next year, for 82 games, the third or fourth leader on the defending champions: preserver of labour peace. Instead of heading into the offseason and labour negotiations filled with bitterness and acrimony, NBA and NHL ‘communities’ will move forward with more positive questions in mind: Can Dallas repeat with a healthy Butler? How many games does Rask start in net for Boston next year? Is Mark Recchi a hall of famer? We love the big leagues.