Why the NBA lockout is a no-win proposition for union referees
I like NBA referees as much as the next basketball junkie -- who doesn't delight in watching
Grab your whistles and get down to the arena ASAP.
At the moment, the NBA -- in a contract dispute with the refs -- is using replacements to officiate preseason games, and when the regular season begins later this month, it will continue to use replacements.
The NBA also locked out the referees for 68 days in 1995. This time around, if necessary, the league will lock them out for 68 weeks.
The regular refs need to know two things:
1. You have no leverage.
2. You can't outduel
The NBA and refs' union are at odds mainly over pension, retirement and severance packages.
(I was once locked out by my first wife. Pension and retirement packages were not at issue; rather, she was insisting on "immediate severance.")
So let's talk leverage.
Frankly, the referees at NBA games are as interchangeable and replaceable as toll-takers along Interstate 95. I'm not saying they don't do a good job -- most of them do -- but finding other people to nail
To most fans, the games look the same no matter what three-man crew is working it.
Heck, I was watching a Cavaliers preseason game the other night and saw
(On the other hand, I remember I had a replacement judge for my second divorce and there was lots of pushing and shoving.)
Anyway, I believe
Most pertinently, the NFL -- during a players' strike -- used replacement
That reality needs to sink in to
Another problem for the referees is public perception. Curiously, in most labor-management disputes, the public -- which is largely made up of labor -- tends to favor management. NBA referees make between $90,000 and $350,000 a year; in other words, they are among the few who can easily afford tickets to NBA games.
There will be no fans picketing NBA arenas with "Free Bennett Salvatore" signs.
Even if the public were behind the refs' union, everyone storming the castle would not shake, rattle or roll David Stern, the benevolent monarch who has been NBA commissioner since 1984.
Stern doesn't negotiate, he dictates. His idea of a compromise is to wait an hour before you do what he says. Like
I know firsthand how tough Stern can be. One time, after I lambasted him in a column, NBA TV disappeared from my cable package, and to this day I am only allowed to watch NBA games on a black-and-white TV.
The NBA has 60 regular officials; Stern, I'm sure, summoned up substitutes between a massage and a manicure. Besides, how hard is it to find 60 replacement refs? You just need 59 guys who make calls that favor the biggest stars, and one guy who bets on games and provides gamblers with inside information.