Players are making more money than ever, too, despite those concessions. And while more money might create more reasons to fight, the opposite could also be true: It might convince everyone not to mess with a good thing. And there are an increasing number of voices on both sides who believe the latter axiom just might win the day. “The recognition is that this is an embarrassment of riches for both sides, and what’s the point?” said a longtime observer with intimate knowledge of NBA labor relations.
In 2017-18, basketball-related income could exceed $7 billion, with the players earning 51 percent, or $3.57 billion. “You miss a third of the season, you lose a billion dollars,” the longtime observer said. “What are you going to gain? The numbers are just so extraordinarily high.”
Some agents believe Roberts is still determined to opt out of the labor deal, based on her heated rhetoric. But most of the sources who spoke to Bleacher Report believe Roberts is simply sending a message to NBA officials—”I’m no pushover”—and that she recognizes this deal is benefiting her constituents.
But the real power play for the union begins Monday at their summer meetings, when James will preside for the first time as an executive vice president. “Man, I’m very excited,” said Chris Paul, All-Star Clippers point guard, James’ friend, and union president. “Obviously, me and ‘Bron talk about it every day. He’s the face of our league. His opinion matters. Our players listen when he talks. It will be great to have him in there. “One thing about ‘Bron, too, when he commits to something he’s always passionate about it, so I know his voice will be heard in there.”
Now, James has a seat at the negotiating table. “I can’t speak for LeBron, I think LeBron spoke pretty well for himself. I took him at his word, I take him at his word,” said Michele Roberts, executive director for the players’ union. “It’s a difficult pill to swallow, given all that even the commissioner has said about the health of the game. I can’t speak for what may have motivated that, I assume he was given information, that’s not the information I’ve seen.”
Roberts said James will “bring a certain amount of excitement” to Monday’s meetings. “We all look forward to watching and hearing how he’ll interact with the players,” she said. “This is an important time for the game and it is critical that we have some of our marquee players involved in the discussion.”
It seems as if every player is reaping benefits. Under the current C.B.A., player salaries are supposed to take about 50.4 percent of the league’s basketball-related income. This past season, income grew more than expected, so the league wrote a check to the National Basketball Players Association to cover the difference — roughly $57 million. Silver thinks that might look like peanuts next year. “We could be writing a check moving close to half a billion dollars to the players association,” Silver said. “That’s not, of course, the ideal outcome from our standpoint.”