Senior Writer

Mailbag: On street ball, lockout, and NBA's need for shrinkage


So, quite a few people responded to my recent column about the players breaking away from the NBA and forming their own league. Among them was someone who already has a league in place for the players to join.

Matt Rosner, director of basketball for the Street Basketball Association, believes he has the answer to the players' desire to create leverage in their collective bargaining talks with the owners. And it doesn't involved signing with teams in far-flung places across the globe.

"It's a structured, organized, safe, fan-friendly environment to play your games in," Rosner said on the phone recently. "This is a way to rep your city, make some money and show how you guys can bring in all kinds of revenue streams."

The SBA has teams in 13 cities, including some of the biggest NBA markets -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C. Just as with overseas arrangements, insurance issues have to be worked out. But Rosner said his organization is actively recruiting NBA players to join his streetball movement, and he fully recognizes that it would be a temporary but potentially rewarding arrangement for all parties involved.

A couple of SBA All-Stars were instrumental in recruiting Kevin Durant to appear in the pickup game at New York City's Rucker Park, which he turned into a YouTube sensation by pouring in 66 points. It's this kind of grassroots, viral phenomenon that Rosner believes would make appearances by other NBA All-Stars so attractive. And unlike a league that would start from scratch and require significant investment that would be squandered once the players returned to the NBA after the lockout, the SBA is positioned to take short-term advantage of the players' availability before returning to business as usual once the NBA resumes.

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The players, in turn, would be able to use the brief experience to add another permanent marketing platform and revenue stream to their portfolios. For example, a mainstream star like Dwyane Wade could adopt a streetball name (oh, let's call him Flash), throw up some YouTube highlights in streetball events here and there, and create sort of a streetball alter-ego that he could continue to promote and benefit from after the lockout ended.

"The bottom line is, these guys are ballers," Rosner said. "Even LeBron went and played in a local streetball league. That's where their roots are. That's what makes basketball fun. ... They want to dribble through someone's legs and they want to dunk on somebody. It's the roots and history of the game. The roots of a lot of these guys is inner-city basketball. It makes you that much more marketable once you get that street cred."

Of course, it's always about the money. Durant wasn't paid a dime for his appearances at Rucker and Dyckman Parks. Potential deals with other NBA stars would vary depending on the player's profile and what he's trying to get out of it.

"As long as the NBA keeps doing what they're doing, people will gravitate towards it," Rosner said.

The SBA already has venues with seating capacities of between 2,500 and 5,500, and the league is working on securing additional outdoor venues to showcase NBA players. During his Jordan Brand trip to China earlier this month, Wade grabbed a jersey and jumped into a game featuring some SBA players who also were touring the country for a Gatorade promotion. To this point, the SBA has no commitments from stars of Wade's caliber. But if he scored a couple, Rosner would need bigger venues and presumably could charge more than the going rate of $50-$75 for courtside seats.

"Obviously, if LeBron James wanted to rep Ohio and Dwyane wanted to rep Chicago, that's a different story," Rosner said. "You go find the biggest venue you can find."

Needless to say, a lot of you who don't run basketball leagues had opinions about the viability of a breakaway league of NBA All-Stars and other topics from recent columns. Time to break open the mailbag:

From: Matt

The NBA sucks, Ken. Give it a rest with the star player garbage. I would love nothing more than to see the NBA humbled. They are not the NFL and should not get paid what they are getting paid. The business model doesn't work and the owners need to be successful for the business to be successful. Obviously the franchises are not easy to sell and it's because the business is broken.

The comparison of a $2 million average salary in the NFL and a $5 million average salary in the NBA is beyond deceptive. There are 1,900 players in the NFL, many of whom never even set foot on the field except to throw a block on the occasional kickoff return or place the ball on the ground for a field-goal attempt. As for the franchises being difficult to sell, how do you explain the Golden State Warriors being sold for $450 million? How do you explain the Pistons and 76ers being sold in the middle of a labor shutdown? Let's move on to someone who agrees with me ...

From: Tony

I like your ramblings. An 8- to 10-team league of stars would work. I know the public would buy into it hook, line and sinker. Even if the league was larger -- say 16 to 20 teams -- that would work, too. It's actually what the NBA should do. The product with 10 teams would be so much more interesting. The level of play would be awesome. We would be talking about 3-4 superstars per team. Your list of the top 100 players would showcase all these players with a few fringe players on the bottom end. Let's start a movement. 

You had me at ramblings, Tony. A reader who understands the value of star-packed teams and recognizes that the biggest problem facing the NBA is that there are simply too many teams.

From: Leendert

Dear Mr. Berger: I read your article on a runaway basketball league with great interest. I'd like to make a few comments. How about making some kind of a Super Rucker Park League with about 16 teams of seven or eight players each. Play games at legendary courts and gyms like Rucker or make special venues for the games. How cool would it be to have a game right in front of the Bellagio in Vegas? Have players form their own teams. Friends playing together could make for better, more unselfish play. Don't televise any of those games. With only YouTube clips shot from iPhones, the hype only grows bigger. I could go on and on, but in short it seems like a fr**king good idea!

I like everything you said, Leendert. Contact Matt Rosner. Just don't forget the little people with Android phones. We can shoot viral streetball videos, too.

From: Richard

I love this idea. Gosh, I wish I were rich. I'd do this just to piss off the people who own the franchises now.

I wish I were rich, too, Rich. Just remember that the people running the NBA already are rich, and they hate running a basketball league so much that they're threatening to shut it down for an entire season.

From: Maclenon

One of the very positive points of stars going on these promotional tours is showing the owners that they are not the only game in town. Why posture and pontificate with an opposition that may not be negotiating in good faith when the top players' actions speak so much louder than their words would -- not to mention how their words would get spun in today's media? ... The owners' stance is one of shameless hubris and they are posturing like the NBA is the only game in town. Through their actions, though, they are fueling the growth of basketball internationally without taking part in the spoils of such growth. Quite the contrary, they will only end up accelerating the dilution of their brand and the breaking up of their current monopoly on top world talent. All of this won't happen overnight, but it will happen sooner now rather than later.

This is what the players are hoping, that going overseas en masse will break the owners' will to impose their new business model on them. But more than six weeks into the lockout, the highest-profile player to sign overseas remains Deron Williams, and that happened more than a month ago.

From: Jeff

I think the sad part is that the NBA is completely oblivious to the fact that no one needs their league anymore. I have been a diehard basketball fan for many years, but even though the parity has improved, the team element that makes it fun to watch has evaporated. I'll take my football through January, like I always do, and then wait for opening day of baseball in April. I won't even think twice about the NBA. That is the problem the NBA will have -- no one will care until after the Super Bowl anyway. They have a three-month wheelhouse juxtaposed against football, so no one will miss them until football is over.

Jeff, you touched on a very serious problem for the NBA and the NBPA. If either side is banking on the fact that the league survived a lockout-induced, 50-game season in 1998-99, they are in real trouble here. Because if they continue to drag their feet in these negotiations, they'll be shocked to learn how fast a 50-game season could become a zero-game season if they don't get serious.

From: Scott

From the perspective of this Lakers fan, the earliest evidence of real problems was Buss' decision to fire long-time employees to save money. Although Buss is a renowned poker player/bluffer, I don't think he would have done this unless he actually believed the situation was dire.

Sadly, I'm afraid you're right, Scott. The Lakers aren't the only team to have layoffs -- most recently, we learned that the Pacers had let three veteran scouts go -- but the behavior of the big-market teams is particularly important. At some point, logic would dictate that the big-market owners, who have more to lose from a lengthy lockout, would wrest control of the negotiations from the hard-liners and small-market owners. But if the big fish are buckling down for the long haul, that doesn't bode well for anybody.

From: Tim

The NBA is a mess. My hometown team, the Wolves, has been relevant in one of their more than 20 seasons. They are giving away upper-deck season tickets. Regular season games can be boring snoozefests as overpaid players refuse to put forth any effort. The gap between the five legitimate contenders, in any given season, and the rest of the league can be huge. The NBA, as a whole, is light years behind the NFL. Repeating tired, union-approved slogans will do nothing to solve this problem. During a time when everyone is being forced to deal with pay freezes or cuts, is expected to pay more for medical coverage, and is doing more with less, these unionized athletes seem to believe that they should be exempt from the prevailing economy. Do you believe that is a realistic expectation on their part? When you write columns aimed at directing your readers away from the real issues in play, you become a shill. And it's up to you to decide whether you are just going to shill for the players or whether you will show some actual backbone and report on the reality of this labor stoppage. I'm not sure that I even believe that you read these comments, but your website invited my opinion. Best of luck to you.

Oh, I read the comments. And I thank you for reading my columns and giving me your two cents. We could begin to solve many of the problems you mention by contracting the Timberwolves and at least one other hopeless team that will never profit in a market where it doesn't belong. (Though the NBA agreed to keep the Hornets in New Orleans for three more years when it took over the franchise, they're still at the top of my list.) Your point about unionized athletes not being willing to sacrifice like the rest of us in a bad economy is only partially valid. Yes, it is reasonable to expect the players to give up something in the negotiation and sacrifice some of their earnings due to the economic downturn. But you can't equate the sports business to the steel business or the auto business. It is more like the entertainment business, where A-list stars command far more than NBA players to entertain us in movies and on TV. Further, the NBA did quite well during the 2009-10 and '10-'11 seasons, which came on the heels of the worst financial catastrophe to hit the United States since the Great Depression. Revenues hit record levels in each of those seasons, even as the league predicted that revenues would decline. While I agree that too many B- and C-list NBA stars are being paid like A-listers, I do not agree that employees with an average earning span of five years should agree to a 10-year pay freeze because the economy had one or two bad years. Do the players need a reality check that the good old days of overpaid, sub-par players are over? Certainly. But asking them to eat humble pie for a decade when the NBA is only going to grow and become exponentially more flush with revenues is a bit harsh.

From: Joshua (on Magic exec Pat Williams and his  battle with multiple myeloma.)

Great article about a great man. I have always been fascinated when I read something about him. I had kind of forgotten about him for awhile. Thanks for reminding me of the good role models that still permeate society that unfortunately we do not focus enough attention on. On another note, I won't be missing my annual physical in two weeks!

Aside from fighting cancer with a smile, Williams' biggest motivation now is to persuade men to make sure they see the doctor once a year for a physical. Nice to see a positive message getting through amid all the negative.

Before joining, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on

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