Richard FitzRichard liked to call himself the Duke of Normandy, which sounded loftier than just count. He had some vague idea it was Latin. He would have preferred to call himself king, but the French king claimed suzerainty over Normandy from old times, and Richard could not deny what had been sworn, even though this king was not the man or even the grandson of the man it had been sworn to.
She was gone. He knew that at once, drifting through the piled stones. But even as he knew that, he felt something coming over the misty sea toward him, and he caught a stiff of something more horrible even than the stink of death.
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See, it wouldn't have been a typical All-Star Weekend account for me. It would have been about money. You might remember me writing that the NBA was the No Balls Association two years ago. Now it's the No Benjamins Association. Nobody is rolling in Benjamins anymore. Everyone is scared. Money hangs over everything.
That's what I ended up discussing for four solid days in Phoenix. Hands down, it was the most depressing All-Star Weekend I've ever attended. Celebrities were scarce. The parties weren't as good or plentiful. Even the number of groupies seemed lower than usual. It's not as if everyone was drinking Natural Light and eating Hamburger Helper, but still, when you're celebrating a weekend with the No Benjamins Association, you know it. We should have been talking about Kevin Durant's coming-out party, a potentially delicious see-if-you-can-top-this battle between Kobe and LeBron at the game (never happened), whether H-O-R-S-E worked, who might emerge in a wide-open playoff race, even whether the Nate Robinson and Dwight Howard dunk contest \"battle\" was too contrived … only everything kept coming back to that dark cloud of money.
This season We talked about money. Constantly. We didn't even know about the line of credit on the horizon; that didn't leak until the Monday after the All-Star Game. (On Thursday, we learned that 12 teams will accept the league's offer to borrow $200 million from JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, with between $13 million and $20 million available to each team. I found this ironic after learning in Phoenix that David Stern and Jerry Colangelo blew a jaw-dropping $100 million on the entire Redeem Team process from beginning to end. My how times have changed.) We knew about layoffs of employees within the league and various franchises. We knew various local and national sponsors were bailing, most notably car companies and major banks (two staples for the NBA). We knew certain franchises were losing significant wads of money and reacting accordingly. (Details are still trickling out. For instance, after the trade deadline, The Sacramento Bee reported the Kings would have lost $25 million had they not dumped Brad Miller's salary and bought out Mikki Moore, and the newspaper's Kings blog reported team employees were no longer allowed to work overtime or eat dinner in the media room.) Even trade talk -- normally a staple of any All-Star Weekend -- revolved more around themes such as, \"They have to cut payroll,\" \"They can't take on any money right now\" and \"They're too terrified of the tax to do anything.\"
You know who was mentioned in more \"Where do you think he's going\" scenarios than anyone besides Amare Stoudemire Raef LaFrentz's Expiring Contract. That thing got mentioned so many times it could have hired a PR staff and an agent. Here's the kicker: Raef can't play. He's a basketball invalid. He has been injured since something like 1973. Portland's insurance company repays the Blazers 80 percent of his salary, making him a cap figure and little else. In the No Benjamins Association, that makes him a freaking commodity. Teams wanted to dump clearly superior players on Portland at the deadline just to get Raef's insurance money. Phoenix would have traded Shaq for Raef and Channing Frye's expiring contract in a heartbeat. Jersey supposedly offered Vince Carter and two protected No. 1's for Raef's contract, and Milwaukee supposedly would have given up Richard Jefferson and either Joe Alexander or a future No. 1 for it. Incredibly, the Blazers turned everyone down. And this is a team bankrolled by Paul Allen.
How did we get here The economy turned in August, well after deposits had been sent in for season tickets, courtside seats and luxury suites. The league would love for you to believe that attendance hasn't been affected, but the NBA's official tally counts only total \"customers,\" counted as paid tickets, comps (seats given to celebrities, sponsors, friends of the team or whomever, a number that can be fudged any way you want), discounted tickets and no-shows. The numbers don't reflect any falloffs with parking money, concessions, merchandise and restaurant/bar revenue around arenas. (For instance, at least half the concession stands have been closed for every Clippers home game this season -- except when the Lakers or Celtics were the opponents.) They definitely don't reflect aggressive giveaways like Chicago's recent buy-one-get-one-free promotion or Memphis' Pepsi Family Plan Pack (four tickets, four Pepsis and four hot dogs for $48). When you hear the Grizzlies are averaging 12,600 a game, that's like Amazon.com bragging, \"We sold 12,600 books this week\" and glossing over the fact that 65 percent of them were bargain books for $3.99 or less. (Amazing but true fact confirmed to me by multiple people: Memphis makes about $300,000 per home game. That's gross, not net. Even more amazing, four or five other teams are within $100,000 of that number.) So, yeah, attendance is \"up\" 1.9 percent, as this recent Sports Business Daily story would lead you to believe. But not really. Especially when you include Seattle's move to a sold-out arena in Hijack City and how it skewed the overall numbers.
Here's a little game to play during your next NBA outing: Look around for how many suites are dark. (You'll notice them specifically in the corners or behind the baskets.) A dark suite means either that nobody bought it or that somebody did buy it for the season, then made the decision, \"Screw it, let's save the $1,200 [or whatever the number is] on food and drink and not give tonight's suite tickets to anyone.\" (Note: Only a handful of NBA teams control the concessions in their arenas.) That makes the less desirable suites somewhat of a sunk cost -- those companies can't get the money back for the season, but at the very least, they won't lose more money on that purchase. What will happen next season They just won't buy the suite.
Well, what do I do I already owe more money than I'm making just in 2010. Because I mistakenly projected what salary numbers I THOUGHT I COULD PAY and never anticipated my revenue would drop that dramatically, basically, I'm screwed. (Hold on, three exclamation points coming.) Welcome to the NBA's world!!! Teams are locked into swollen contracts that suddenly make no sense, whether it's non-franchise players making franchise money (Vince, T-Mac, Shaq, Brand, Baron, Jermaine O'Neal, Dalembert, Okafor, etc.) or overpaid role players making six to 600 times what they should be making (Marko Jaric, Nazr Mohammed, Larry Hughes, Radmanovic, Mo Peterson, etc.). In the irony of ironies, the league finally learned something that fans knew all along -- nobody was buying a ticket to see the likes of Luol Deng, Gerald Wallace or Corey Maggette, much less Tim Thomas or Andres Nocioni. With the cap/tax thresholds slipping, teams can't dodge them by dumping overpaid mistakes like when Phoenix bribed Seattle to take Kurt Thomas' contract and two No. 1 picks last year. Someone In The Know told me that 20 of the 30 NBA teams will lose money this season … and we haven't even come close to hitting rock bottom yet. Just wait until next season.
Team Stern and the owners know this better than anyone. They will pick the next fight, and again, they will win. When the players' union waves a white flag and the lockout finally ends (2012 2013), I predict a raise of the individual salary max (to $24-25 million), a softer salary cap, a restriction on long-term contracts (can't be more than three years unless you're re-signing your own star), the elimination of opt-out clauses and the midlevel exemption, and the rookie age limit rising to 20. That's seven predictions in all … and I bet I'll end up nailing six. Will the league survive a yearlong disappearance What about two years We're less than 29 months from starting to find out. If you think it's a good idea to disappear for even six months in shaky economic times, ask any Writers Guild member how that turns out. These wealthy or used-to-be-wealthy owners don't want to keep losing money just to feed their ego by continuing to own a basketball team. They will make other arrangements, the same way they would arrange to sell their favorite yacht because they didn't feel like splurging on gasoline anymore. These guys don't want to fix the system; they want to reinvent it.
(And by the way, nobody loves basketball more than me. I mean, NOBODY. But when an NBA player with two years remaining on his contract for a total of $44 million shows up for the season out of shape, complains most of the y