October 17, 2011
For all the talk about basketball-related income, franchises in the red, and players losing paychecks, the biggest losers of the NBA lockout have been the arena employees who depend on NBA games for a significant portion of their livelihoods. Whereas even NBA players who live paycheck to paycheck can recoup lost money a few months after they get back to work, arena workers depend on their salaries to maintain a decent standard of living, not a very lavish lifestyle instead of one marginally less impressive.
In a way, the players are at fault for this state of affairs. After all, if they conceded to the owners' demands today, then many Americans would have jobs again. So, as a show of support for the people out of work, Pacers star Danny Granger(notes) is going to invite every employee of Conseco Fieldhouse to dinner. Here's the message from his Twitter account (via EOB):
This gesture is a complicated one for several reasons. Even if you support the players' cause, there's no denying that they are partially responsible for the current labor impasse. A dinner offer is a nice offer, but it doesn't make up for the employees' losses. If Granger really wanted to make a difference, he might have been better served copying Luke Walton and Kobe Bryant and given several people thousands of dollars.
It's also possible to take the cynical point of view and suggest that Granger is trying to get some good press for the players in the media. There's certainly a chance that Granger is motivated by selfishness, but it also seems pretty darn cold to assume the worst of someone who has offered to buy dinner for every arena employee. Good press could just be a positive byproduct, not the driving force behind the event.
In fact, it's not terribly difficult to imagine Granger feeling some level of empathy for the employees. He is in a far better situation than them while his employer locks him out of his place of work, but the situations have some similarities. Besides the basic facts of not being allowed to work, both the players and arena employees find themselves largely at the mercy of businessmen trying to maximize profits in any way possible. Granger can't pretend that his situation is exactly the same as that of a single mother of three who works two jobs just to make ends meet, but he can still claim some level of mutual frustration.
The lockout is a peculiar labor case, but it's still a fight between employees and employers driven by the same general principles as any other. Billionaires typically don't try to pry concessions from millionaires -- they're more likely to tangle with thousandaire union lifers. In their special position, though, the players' union can help bring some attention to the plight of this nation's struggling workers.
Reading Granger's offer in the context of this particular lockout is too limiting. Even if unintentionally so, it's about issues that extend far beyond BRI and a hard salary cap.