Is David Stern Threatening a Referee Lockout to Scare Players?
The facts certainly imply this is a scare job: Stein reports the league is pushing for a $3.2 million reduction of the total ref budget (a 10% cut), while the refs have said they will give up no more than $2.5 million (or 7.8%) total. That zone of disagreement -- $700,000 -- is, of course, small potatoes. It equates to some 0.02% of the total NBA revenue pot.
If I were a referee, I'd probably be upset about this penny-pinching too. And were I a player, I'd be ready for some serious nitpicking from the league.
It's not that the refs today or the players tomorrow are necessarily right -- it's just got to be a bad feeling to see a megalith like the NBA threaten a lockout over a measly $700,000 (assuming Stein's figures are correct). The fact that the referee budget (which includes salary, travel, playoff bonuses, health benefits, pension payments) is only $32 million -- the equivalent of five players making the average NBA salary -- is a bit jarring. Our game is in these referees' hands, and they can affect each and every game ... and combined they make about half of what the Bobcats make.
The 10% cut seems steep, but I'm not privy to the economics of it. The NBA's offices in Secaucus, N.J. and New York have made serious cuts over the past year, and many teams have done the same. The mid-contract ref cut does seem silly in a dollar sense -- again, the current quibbling is over an amount which constitutes two tenths of one percent of the NBA's annual revenue -- but it's understandable in the macro view.
Disappointing and unfortunate, but understandable. It won't be understandable if the NBA carries this disaster to term and runs replacement referees out onto the court. It's in the NBA's interest to show the players union there will be blood, but it's in no one's best interest to start the season with back-up zebras. A deal has to be made.