The NBA will lose money by finishing season, but has priorities in order

2020 NBA All-Star - NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Press Conference

Capitalism is the best we have, but it leaves something to be desired: putting aside short-term profitability in the name of long-term stability. I'm not a socialist, I swear.

Neither is Adam Silver, I don't think. But he and his league are progressive enough to attempt what few enterprises have been able to accomplish.

"This entire endeavor is all expense," ESPN NBA insider Brian Windhorst said on The Hoop Collective podcast Monday. "This whole thing is one giant money-loser. These are all games that were already contracted to play, and you're not getting any new revenue for them. The games that are on TV are already a part of existing TV deals. All of these games that you thought you were going to be getting millions of dollars in fan revenue for you'll be getting nothing, and you will have the expense - whatever the deal ends up being with Disney World - of housing all of those people. This is one giant money-loser."

Since the late David Stern ran the NBA, it has been the league's strategy to put progress before profits, where it can. Stern insisted on subsidizing the WNBA, even though it is a strain on the NBA's solvency. Recently, the league began subsidizing another developmental program - its "professional pathway program" - which offers high school players up to $500,000 as an alternative to college. In recent memory, no league has stuck its neck out on social justice issues like the NBA and its star players. All of this has been done under the assumption that one day, the seeds the NBA's been planting will sprout. Now, commissioner Adam Silver - and the owners and players he represents - are furthering that ethos by accepting a financial loss in the name of crowning a legitimate 2019-20 champion. The bet is to take a short-term financial loss in exchange for long-term brand preservation.

That's brilliant.

In the coronavirus era, perhaps the greatest undertaking leagues face is to salvage whatever they can financially, while maintaining dignity in the public sphere. That's something the MLB is grappling with now.

Even though the MLB generates more revenue-per-year than the NBA, the NBA is acting like an organization with plans for long-term stability. The MLB is operating like it is owned by hedge fund vultures, or "activist shareholders," who strip a dying company of its assets before declaring bankruptcy. There is no culpability for how the common fan views baseball's brand, and owners are happy to pass that buck to their players. Carl Icahn would be proud.

The perfect way to run a league probably lies somewhere in between the tactics of the NBA and MLB. The NBA tends to be idealistic, like my postmodernist college professors, but the MLB is short-sighted and greedy, which is worse. The NFL isn't run perfectly, but is too big, and addicting to fail.

Fans don't care about all of that, though. Fans want to watch their sport without worrying about how the sausage is made, or who's losing money in the process.

I have to hand it to Adam Silver. He's appeasing the owners he works for, the players who trust him, the Chinese communists Daryl Morey offended (or maybe not) and the fans who just want their basketball.

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