The NBA Free Agent Double Standard Debate Verdict

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

Well, LeBron James is an arrogant jerk. He took to a national stage to bask in the glory of betraying his hometown, and possibly the most loyal fans in all of sports. Bleacher Fan’s insightful and searing commentary on the subject, in the form of his argument for this debate about double standards in free agency, is excellent. Regardless if you agree or disagree with his assessment of this debate issue, it’s a good read for some analysis and insight from a smart writer, a Cavs fan, and a Northeast Ohio native – something he is rightfully proud to be.

While I was enamored with Bleacher Fan’s skill and assessment, I must also disconnect from the emotion of his narrative to render a verdict on this topical issue of double standards in NBA free agency.

Should the NBA repeal the rule that prevents owners from speaking about free agency prior to the signing period opening up, or should it be universally enforced for owners, players, coaches, and the entire construct of the NBA?

I enjoyed Babe Ruthless’ argument, but I do not believe there is a first amendment violation of rights here. Judges can impose gag orders, friends can ask friends to keep secrets, and the NBA can fine for talking about something it prefers not be discussed. That is not preventing anyone from talking about, simply making it expensive to do so – thanks to a legally binding contract everyone signed. In fact, disallowing the NBA from creating and enforcing rule is a larger and more egregious violation of the first amendment.

To a point made by Babe Ruthless, tampering may be a poor word choice for the rule. I do not agree, however, that a public comment has no impact on a negotiation. Some bits of information during a negotiation are material and must remain between the two parties negotiating the contract. Suddenly public information can impact the negotiation process. So, while I agree that the NBA may have improperly named the rule “tampering,” that is not the issue each argument is tasked with making.

Unfortunately, Babe Ruthless misses out on the opportunity the NBA would have to enforce a free agent talking ban. The technology DOES exist to monitor all of those various digital communications channels, and the NBA can wield it how it sees fit. These public statements via text, Twitter, email, etc. are very easy to monitor. Heck, the NBA could buy the right software and then pay a couple of college age interns to run it and monitor the communication. I thoroughly disagree with Babe’s proclamation that the ban would be impossible to enforce. It would be rather simple to enforce, actually, and effective.

A ban creates mystery. Mystery creates intrigue. Intrigue creates ratings. Bleacher Fan is correct in this regard. Whether we like it or not, LeBron, and LRMR Marketing, created this stir because a) they can and b) it creates a mass hysteria of interest. The league is loving this. Banning the players from making public statements about their intended destination – until they have made a final decision – would perpetuate intrigue and drum up huge amounts of interest.

Let’s quickly review the TV ratings from last night’s broadcast of “The Decision.” The ratings were amazing! The program earned higher ratings than 95 percent of the league’s GAMES last season, playoffs included. But, true to form, more than one out of every four homes tuned in to the show in Cleveland, where the fans really cared and had a lot invested. Miami… only 12.8 percent of homes. LeBron is now in the land of apathy… with his preferred absence of accountability. But, TV ratings will be good. The NBA will tailor its schedule, and TNT and ESPN will also, to where LeBron will be. He is now the most hated man in the NBA. Contrast in sports, like art, makes for fame. LeBron is a master at fame, even though he is not a master at basketball.

Free agency, like anything else in the NBA – from the draft to the playoffs – is a product the NBA has in its portfolio. The NBA can enforce any rules – perfectly legally – that enhance the quality of any of its products. If the league desires to turn free agency into its own product with a television special similar to LeBron’s, but expanded to include announcements of all of the free agents, then a ban – complete with the requisite fines collected from information leaked out to tease the upcoming event – is a good, ney, GREAT thing for the NBA. People will watch.

Bleacher Fan espouses that every player should be prevented from talking because every executive is. While I agree with Bleacher Fan’s sentiment, I believe the outcome would be different. It would not prevent any interest in free agency, but open the door to a massive money-making opportunity for everyone involved – provided fans have the stomach, and the players have the ego.

At the end of Babe Ruthless’ routinely entertaining argument, I was simply unconvinced that lifting the ban was better for the NBA. The reason Babe Ruthless now follows the sport in a way he never has is because, in part, of the ban. Limiting what executives can say builds mystery. Limiting chatter even further by extending a ban to players simply builds more mystery and creates opportunities like a Free Agent ESPNLEBRONAGANZA!!!!! And, who doesn’t want that? Er, who wouldn’t WATCH that? While I am sick of the whole LeBron fest, I watched. I was curious. And a ban only serves to heighten that, even for this debate’s reluctant winner, Bleacher Fan.

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One Response to The NBA Free Agent Double Standard Debate Verdict

  1. Damon Mills says:

    I often read your blog, I just thought I would say to keep the good work!

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