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Labor Relations in the NBA: The Analysis of Labor Conflicts Between Owners, Players, and Management from 1998-2006

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Title: Labor Relations in the NBA: The Analysis of Labor Conflicts Between Owners, Players, and Management from 1998-2006
Author: Brown, Steven
Advisor: Hohenstein, William
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Sociology
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Running Time: 247925 bytes
Issue Date: 2007
Abstract: This study is focused on the evolution of the National Basketball Association between 1998 and 2006, primarily the relationships between owners, players, and management in this time period. More specifically, this study assesses the changing working conditions of NBA players during this time period, and how the actions of owners, players, and management have reduced and restricted the earning potential of NBA players. In 1998, the NBA underwent its largest labor conflict in its recent history. The owners decided to suspend competition to enforce a new collective bargaining agreement in the NBA. Owners saw that players’ salaries were being paid at too high of an expense to teams’ revenues, and that this increasing percentage would hurt NBA franchises. The relationship between owners/management and players reflects the mindset of business owners in capitalism, as the capitalist’s aim for profitability conflicts at times with the comfort of the laborers they employ. This conflict is shown through the Lockout, as well as other labor conflicts displayed in this study. Players were unhappy with the lockout, and felt that it had social implications as well as financial implications. Some players alluded to their race as a large influence on the enactment of the lockout. As the majority of players in the NBA are African-American (73%), and the majority of owners (1 African-American owner out of 31 teams) and NBA management are white, race was an extremely important variable to consider in evaluating labor relations between the parties. Since the Lockout in 1998, players have faced many new policies that have sought to improve the marketability of the league. The player’s off-court behavior has faced new regulations. The players received a new dress code last season, which pertains to what players wear as they head towards and leave games, and are also required to perform more community service, in the aftermath of a brawl during a Pistons-Pacers game in the 2004-2005 season that severely damaged the image of the NBA. The dress code caused controversy among the league’s players and the media, as it equated the casual attire of players to unprofessional behavior, and the lockout caused many fans to criticize the greed of both players and owners. In addition, in the 2006-2007 Season, NBA management has given referees more leeway to give out technical fouls to its players during a game, citing that players protested calls to a degree that disrupted the flow and entertainment value of the game. NBA management often implements controversial policies because they assert that the league stands to lose money if its image becomes tarnished. However, players felt that these policies only served to reinforce the notion in the public that players are uncivilized, aggressive and violent. This study will assess the effectiveness of these policies in improving the NBA's image and marketability, as well as the impact of these policies on the players' relationship with owners and management. This study will also assess whether NBA management is accurate in their claims of players potentially damaging the league’s image, and what the league’s image consists of. These rule changes have also encompassed competitive aspects of the game. For example, hand-checking has been enforced to a greater degree since the 2005-2006 season, the NBA has increased its enforcement of offensive fouls during the 2006-2007 season, and during the 2006-2007 season, the NBA has introduced a new official basketball to be used league-wide. These rule changes were controversial, and highlighted conflicts of interest between players and owners. The league instituted these rule changes to give players more offensive freedom, increase offensive performance, and make the game more entertaining for fans, thus increasing the league’s profitability. However, players were forced to adjust their offensive and defensive skills to these rules, and some players felt that these adjustments impeded them from performing at a high level. This study will observe player perspectives on these moves, and attempt to determine what effect these policies have had on the ability of NBA players to earn salaries based on merit and playing ability, as well as the impact of these rule changes on the NBA’s image. The league also introduced an age limit last season, in which players are only eligible to be drafted in the league if they are 19 years old or over, or have played 1 year of NCAA basketball. The age limit was formed in response to claims that the league was becoming weaker and less competitive because of the influx of younger players. NBA management felt that, in the eyes of its league’s fans, the quality of the game was suffering because of high school NBA draft entrants. Thus, NBA management worried that the potential for fans to lose interest in the game, and for the NBA to experience decreased television ratings and attendance, was increasing. This has led to dramatic changes in the composition of NBA teams, as potential NBA superstars and “lottery” (top 13) draft picks such as Greg Oden, Bill Walker, Kevin Durant, OJ Mayo, Josh McRoberts, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young, Hasheem Thabeet, Brandan Wright, and Mike Beasley have had to forego NBA salaries directly out of high school to enroll in college for a year. The social relevance, as well as the legality of, this move have been highly debated, and will be examined in this study. The age limit is an important part of today’s collective bargaining relationship between owners and players, and this study will reveal the significance of this dynamic to the league at large. While the policies of owners and management are crucial to determining the working conditions and salaries of NBA players, this study will also examine the perspectives of players in the NBA. In cases such as the Lockout, the introduction of the new official basketball, and the Age Limit, the player’s union either did not strongly contest, or did not attempt to contest, proposed policies by owners and management. In these cases, players appeared to have strong inclinations to stand against the policies, as well as a credible legal defense. This study will observe social theory, as well as player accounts, as an attempt to explain how players feel about their working conditions and salaries, and why players have not defended their workers rights more actively. The state of the relationship between owners/management and NBA players is complex, and the profitability of the league, perceptions of NBA fans at large, the racial and social divide between players and owners/management and the media, and the actions of NBA players influence the working climate in the NBA for players. This study will work to determine how effective NBA players are in maximizing their earning potential, as well as whether NBA management and owners propose policies that are successful at creating profitability and a stronger image for the league, in spite of the potential of alienating NBA players from their work.
Subject: Racism in sports -- United States
Subject: Basketball -- United States -- Economic aspects
Subject: National Basketball Association -- Management
Subject: Strikes and lockouts -- United States
Subject: Industrial relations -- United States
Access Restrictions: Open Access
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Brown, Steven. "Labor Relations in the NBA: The Analysis of Labor Conflicts Between Owners, Players, and Management from 1998-2006". 2007. Available electronically from

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