There are lots of explanations for the lockout: parity, small markets being able to compete, and owners losing money are at the forefront of what we’ve heard. But when I was looking over NBA history, an interesting thing stood out:
- In 2010, LeBron James was coveted by multiple teams; getting LeBron meant being a contender. Instead of going to an expected destination, LeBron made a surprise move and ended up in Miami. He immediately turned the team into a contender. The next season the owners locked the players out.
- In 1997, Tim Duncan was coveted by multiple teams as a number 1 pick; getting Duncan meant being a contender. Instead of ending up at an expected destination, Duncan suprisingly ended up in San Antonio. He immediately turned the team into a contender. The next season the owners locked the players out.
In fact the same story goes back even further!
- In 1982 Moses Malone demanded a trade from Houston (this was before free agency). Getting Malone meant being a contender. Instead of staying with his old team, Malone ended up in Philadelphia. He immediately turned them into a favorite. The next season the owners enacted the first salary cap on the players.
In the history of the NBA, when an MVP has made a surprising or unexpected move near negotiations, the owners have been very punitive toward the players. In the case of Tim Duncan, this even happened when it wasn’t the fault of the player! Every owner wants a title, and that requires an MVP candidate. When one enters the market, they feel entitled to the player, and when they don’t get them, they can get very upset. And when the owners get upset, the fallout can be excessive.
During the lockout we’ve heard a lot of theories. The problem with things like parity and the owners losing money is that they don’t hold up to scrutiny. Owners feeling entitled has been going been going on for decades, as has owners being upset at missing out on top players. So when we ask what caused the lockout, the answer may be simpler than we think — maybe the owners are just angry that they didn’t get LeBron. And you won’t like them when they’re angry. . .