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Is NBA basketball "socialism," as NYT (and Tsai) approvingly suggest? Well, it offers both lessons and caveats.

Is It Basketball … or Socialism?, writes New York Times editorial board member Binyamin Appelbaum, suggesting that "While nobody was looking, the N.B.A. figured out how to fight inequality."

The gist:
The N.B.A. knows that unregulated competition would be a disaster. And the N.B.A.’s rules, as explained in the video above, could help to revive the American economy, too. It may be a while before you can catch a live game, but you can still pick up something from watching the N.B.A.
That video, produced with Tala Schlossberg and Andrew Blackwell, notes the following "socialistic elements of the NBA:
  • revenue sharing among rich and poor teams, some of which have much larger media platforms;
  • spending limits via a salary cap so the richest teams can't spend their way to victory
  • the annual players draft, which advantages the weakest teams
Unregulated competition, the video suggests, "would be like the rest of America, where the wealthiest people can set their kids up with trust funds while everyone else struggles just ot pay the rent."

To make America look a little more like the NBA, the narration suggests, we'd need "higher taxes on the wealthy to redistribute money" and, like the draft, provide the poor more opportunity, "like making sure everyone has access to education and good housing."

It does acknowledge flaws, in that owners get richer, and non0players earn little:
But we can still learn a lesson from the N.B.A. They haven’t abolished winners and losers. They haven’t abolished capitalism or wealth or profit. They just keep teams from using those profits to rig the system and spoil the game for everyone.
Tsai's "socialism"

That narration reminded me of a quote from January 2020 from Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, who again hailed the league's "socialist" economics. Given that the league shares revenue, he said,  “It’s kind of a socialist setup. Basically all 30 teams get to make money.”

My observation was that the "socialism" is also very, very capitalistic. After all, the league's a cartel, and the absence of competition means teams can muscle home cities/states for arena assistance. In other words, they do rig the system in part.

A real socialist setup? The teams would share profits with the public.

Comments at the Times

While some Times readers were enamored of the idea, some wondered about other metrics of fairness. Here's the top reader pick:
Using professional sports and athletes as an example of fairness? You are joking, everything pro sports does is to maximize profits.
Are ticket prices affordable? What about income disparity between players salaries and myself? What is the racial make-up of players? Owners? Management?
The same league knelled for China's forgiveness for a tweet from Nets Owner Joe Tsai, who supported Hong Kong protesters seeking to remain under self rule. Why? So China would not kick NBA pre season games out of China and the league would maintain a lucrative contract deal.
And then social justice icon, LeBron James, stated we should stay out of China's affairs. I guess he felt it was ok to criticize American politics but not the politics of an additional revenue source.
Here's an excerpt from the second-ranking pick:
The NBA exists because it handsomely rewards the talent and effort of the best players in the world. By paying some folks tens of millions to play a child’s game, it enables ticket takers and beer vendors to earn a good living. THAT is the lesson. When rich people do well, so do the poor, and not a single ticket taker would prosper if leftist envy drove the league out of business.
A response:
@Michael You completely missed the point. If the NBA was truly capitalistic, there would be more than 30 teams. The 30 owners now have monopolistic power over entry into the market. They do collude with the salary cap because they don't want to have to pay players what they are worth. Also, revenue sharing insures that small market teams actually exist because in a true market structure, no one outside of Utah would care if the Jazz exist or not. This has nothing to do with paying beer vendors. Go pick up Economics 101 and learn something.
Here's the third-ranking pick:
Unbelievable to me that someone put the time and effort into putting this together, and didn't even mention the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Literally everything mentioned in the video is only legally possible because the league negotiated those terms with its players. Otherwise the entire egalitarian ethos that this video is trying to portray is actually just a bunch of business owners getting together and agreeing how to treat their employees - which is monopolistic, illegal, and horrible for workers. NYT is capable of much better than this.
Another top comment:
To once again state the obvious the NBA employs close to 3,300 people directly and tens of thousands indirectly. A very select few actually get paid to play basketball. 
The vast majority earn near minimum wages. They don't get a salary cap except that created by the government under the guise of a min wage. they don't get profit sharing. They get laid off and indeed get laid off the moment the excitement stops.

So - no - there is no socialism for 90% of the NBA. It is closer to a silicon valley start-up where the star programmers get shares and the rest scraps. And if software firms organized who got the best programmers and what they could be paid we would rightly call that collusion and it is illegal. 

Comments