LOS ANGELES • The first inquiry arrived at the National Basketball Association (NBA) Players Association just seconds after commissioner Adam Silver suspended the regular season on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
One player, then another, and then a whole lot more, all wanted to know the same thing: How much was this going to cost them?
“Players aren’t stupid,” Michele Roberts, the union’s executive director, said in a phone interview. “Guys wanted a ballpark.”
The union was able to give a rough answer for its 450-plus members, based on how much they would lose per game.
But these days, there are more questions than answers.
The players want to know what-if this, what-if that. What if, they ask, Covid-19 wipes out the rest of the season, including the play-offs?
A “more than a significant” amount of the league’s annual revenue is generated during the postseason. A dip in revenue directly affects the players because it is how the salary cap – a team’s spending limit – is calculated.
The more money the NBA makes, the more its teams can spend on players.
But with the contagion coming on the heels of a tweet-related flap with China, which cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue as games were blacked out, it has been a double-whammy.
When it comes to basketball-related income, it has been “a season from hell”, according to Roberts.
The NBA does not have answers either, as it all depends on how long it takes for the virus threat to subside. As of yesterday, the United States had close to 27,000 Covid-19 cases and 348 deaths.
The league plans to pay full salaries to players as scheduled on April 1, but could begin cutting wages to recover money from cancelled games by April 15, ESPN reported on Saturday night.
Citing an NBA memo shared with franchises a day earlier, the sport network’s website said the league might soon begin recovering salary based on a “force majeure” clause in its collective bargaining agreement with players, but will inform teams about its plans before the April 15 payment date.
That is the day the league’s regular season was set to end before being derailed by the outbreak.
Under terms of the NBA-union deal, the league can withhold a percentage of a player’s salary for a catastrophic situation that forces games to be cancelled, including a pandemic.
That money could be held back under the disaster clause in the short term and be used to pay players later should the games eventually be contested.
NBA owners are preparing for major financial losses if the campaign does not resume and have reportedly been seeking arena dates into August in hopes of bringing the term to some sort of conclusion.
For their part, league officials are modelling a number of possibilities.
Among them, the doomsday scenario of an obliterated regular season and play-offs; staging the remaining regular-season and play-off games without fans; and a full rebound, with post-season games in front of a sell-out crowd.
“I’m realistic about the prospects of the regular season,” Roberts said. “But we should not lose all hope about having some modicum of play-offs.”
The league’s labour deal, however, means owners do not have to pay players for games nixed because of Covid-19.
“We’re anxiously awaiting the league’s estimates,” Roberts added. “The doomsday scenario is not a happy one.”
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG
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