Basketball, Democracy, and Collective Bargaining
With another NBA lockout pencilled in for 2017, NBA players must brace themselves and begin to consider alternative approaches to collective bargaining negotiations if they wish to avoid facing defeat yet again. Players need to consider the extent to which the National Basketball Players Association—the union that purports to promote the interests of all NBA players—really does serve them as effectively as it might. The NBPA is a labour union that democratically elects its leaders, yet when we look at its recent track record we see only concession, defeat, and, quite frankly, humiliation. Clearly something needs to be done, and perhaps the UK’s recent referendum on its membership of the European Union can provide some insight into the dangers of corrupt institutions and enable informed and radical NBA players to halt the worrying trends within their own union before it slips into the abyss.
As the referendum—held last Thursday—approached, the unscrupulous jackals of the UK press did their best to fabricate and promote the image of an EU that embodied peaceful and cosmopolitan values, an EU that protected the working poor and their fragile environment whilst guarding against the ever-looming threat of continental war.
Yet the European Union was not founded after the War in order to secure peace in Europe (it is not, in other words, the United Nations); rather, the EU originated as a Cold War bloc that sought to rebuild and protect monopoly capitalism in Western Europe. Far from keeping the peace, after the tragic collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the EU expanded eastwards with great rapacity, and EU states have since helped destabilise Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and parts of Africa. Newer EU members have not enjoyed the prosperity promised them, but have instead been maintained as reservoirs of cheap labour and sites of outsourcing, and though their citizens may move freely across the Union’s internal borders, the outer borders of the EU have become increasingly militarised as its core members seek desperately to halt and expel the very people they are responsible for uprooting through their abominable and illegal conquests.
The EU is, in short, an exclusive and antidemocratic financiers club that has wrought unimaginable devastation upon refugees and the poorest people both within Europe and beyond its fortress walls. As Blairite worm and former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson remarked in 2002, “we are all Thatcherites now.”
Why bring this up? The European Union is a trade bloc, not a labour union. In what way does it resemble the NBPA? Dear reader, the parallels are undeniable. Just as the EU Commission is headed by Jean-Claude Juncker—a man who, during his term as Prime Minister of Luxembourg, turned his home country into one of Europe’s biggest tax havens, and whose current imperative is to unwaveringly carry out the wishes of Europe’s ruling class of imperial gargoyles—so the NBPA’s highest ranking members are conniving and obsequious traitors who consistently sell their comrades out by capitulating to the demands of their bourgeois masters. In recent years, the NBPA has succeeded only in haemorrhaging money to team owners: most recently, in 2011, the share of basketball related income to which NBA players are entitled fell from 57 per cent to just 51 per cent, a disgrace of the highest order.
So how did this come about? In order to understand how the natural solidarity of NBA players has been so thoroughly eroded and undermined, we need look no further than current NBA Commissioner and shapeshifting reptilian Adam Silver. During an interview with Adrian Wojnarowski in December last year, Silver let slip his insidious plot to exploit the avarice of the NBA’s petit bourgeoisie:
As I’ve gotten to know a lot of the superstar players who are now in the league…they’ve become much more sophisticated as well. And so now, especially when you have of course Michael Jordan as a principle owner; but now Grant Hill is, you know, a significant part of the Atlanta Hawks’ new ownership group; you have Shaquille O’Neal in Sacramento; you have David Robinson in San Antonio; and a lot of people don’t know that Penny Hardaway has a small piece of the Memphis Grizzlies’ group; and so now, what’s changed in terms of the quality of these negotiations, you have a lot of the superstar players sitting there wanting to become owners one day, I think which is incredibly healthy, because what I always say to them even outside the context of bargaining is that the way I always try to do deals is to put myself in the other person’s shoes and, you know, try to anticipate what it is they want. […] . I think that to the extent that…those players…directly involved in these negotiations want to be owners one day and want to sit on the other side of the table, ‘profit’ for example doesn’t become a dirty word. [Emphasis mine.]
Indeed, “profit” is the mantra of the NBPA’s current executive board. The First Vice-President of the NBPA is none other than LeBron James; the Treasurer is James’ Cavaliers teammate James Jones; the President, Chris Paul, is a duplicitous insurance salesman and close personal friend of James. Other Vice Presidents include fashion mogul and art collector Carmelo Anthony as well as Silicon Valley tech lobbyists Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala.
As I demonstrated in my last essay, LeBron James is a Machiavellian scoundrel of unmatched guile, concerned solely with his own rational self-interest. Would you trust him to negotiate on your behalf, knowing that in crunch time he thinks only in terms of isolation, of how he as an individual can best succeed?
Both the EU and the NBPA are, thus, corrupt and undemocratic institutions whose sole concern is to further the interests of global capital at the expense of the majority of their members. However, there remains one crucial point on which the NBPA differs from the EU: the NBPA can be reformed. In spite of what inspipd careerists like Owen Jones and “erratic Marxists” like Yanis Varoufakis may try to tell you, the fate of the EU was sealed with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, and any hope of reforming it from within, of introducing democracy or accountability, was emphatically laid to rest. Given these circumstances, the people of the United Kingdom had no choice but to unshackle themselves from this machine of imperialism and the crushing austerity, privatisation, and militarisation it has for so long engendered.
Just as the United Kingdom was bound inextricably to the grotesque Thatcherite project of the global oligarchy for as long as it remained a member of the EU, so the NBPA cannot succeed as long as the NBA’s petit bourgeois strata dominate CBA negotiations. NBA players face a slightly different challenge, however. To dissolve the NBPA and strike out alone as individuals would lead to certain doom. This is precisely what LeBron James and his fellow exploiters want; indeed, it is for this very reason that he and Stephen Curry conspired to produce the Randian spectacle of the 2016 NBA Finals! It must be understood that by “individual” James means no other person than the bourgeois, than the middle-class owner of property. This person must, indeed, be swept out of the way, and made impossible. Solidarity must be cultivated amongst the disaffected members of the NBPA and power democratically handed to black Muslims like Dennis Schröder—injustice is unacceptable in Islam and Muslims are divinely mandated to confront oppressors—and radical Marxists like Steve Nash.
NBA players must not repeat the mistakes of Europe. A brighter, more prosperous, more democratic future is possible for all. All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. Pass the ball.