Let me clear this up immediately, I am not anti-player empowerment. I actually love it. It brings me a lot of joy to think about one of these star players walking into an owner’s office and telling them what’s what. And it brings me even more joy when I think about the owner having to oblige even if they don’t want to. Any personal opposition I have towards it is purely selfish. But while there are some positive effects on the surface, the good definitely comes at a cost.
Now before we go any further, allow me to not be presumptuous and explain what Hamsterdam is and who Bunny Colvin is as briefly as I can. Bunny Colvin is a character on the HBO series, “The Wire”. On the show, he basically legalized drugs in certain areas of his district. The local drug dealers referred to these areas as “Hamsterdam”. They meant Amsterdam but they didn’t know that. When the cops were explaining to the “street pharmacists” that they’d be able to do their business with impunity in designated places, they likened their decision to look the other way to the neutrality of Amsterdam during World War I. These areas were also aptly named due to drugs being legal in said country. But the youngsters unintentionally mispronounced the name of the country so here we are. All police commanders were under pressure from the Commissioner and Deputy of Operations to make a dent in Baltimore’s rampant crime problem. And while Colvin was celebrated by the higher-ups in the police department for crime reduction in the parts of the city that were unaffected by his experiment, once the secret was out he faced severe punishment and humiliation. In case you haven’t seen it or just want to relive it, here’s how he was dealt with.
Now let me explain how this ties into LeBron James. LeBron is the architect of player movement as we know it today. I know that it’s been used as a demerit in regards to his career but that’s another discussion for another day. Today we’re going to examine how LeBron disrupted the system and the parallels between his actions and Colvin’s. Let’s look at the birth of the ideas. Major Colvin was forced to go to drastic lengths to get results because he was watching district commanders get fired on the spot for not producing the desired results. Similarly, LeBron was facing mounting pressure to win a championship and live up to the “Chosen One” billing. Colvin created Hamsterdam. LeBron created a superteam. But this wasn’t the normal way a team comes together. Three franchise guys teaming up in their prime was unheard of. Colvin’s move drew the ire of some of the men under his command. LeBron’s move drew the ire of fans, team executives, and players alike. But one thing that cannot be argued is the results.
Both endeavors got off to rocky starts. It took Colvin’s idea some time to catch on but when it did, it worked exactly as he envisioned. LeBron ran into some hiccups his first year in Miami but eventually was able to punch through the wall. When both of these ventures were good, they were great. Colvin was able to roll up to his bosses with his chest out boasting a 14% decrease in the crime rate and LeBron was able to hoist the Larry O’ Brien trophy. People questioned the ideology behind both moves but the results ultimately spoke for themselves.
Now here’s where the road begins to split. Once it became public knowledge, Colvin’s radical experiment was shut down and he was dealt with in the harshest of fashions. What we saw in the NBA was the opposite. Instead of player movement being curtailed, it blossomed. It’s gotten to the point now where players are expected to form up like Voltron. It wasn’t banished or halted. And the wildest part about it all is it’s not like people didn’t want it to end. It was nothing they could do about it. It gets complicated though because a day of reckoning is coming.
The next round of CBA negotiations is going to be intense, to say the least. The owners are going to do everything they can to seize back a big chunk of the power they’ve conceded over the better part of the last decade. But this is where it gets dicey. LeBron and many of the players who benefitted from this will not be around for the fallout. LeBron will do what Bunny Colvin planned to do. See, Colvin planned to keep up his rouse long enough so he could retire after 30 years on the force. He was mere months away from mission accomplished. He was going to ride off into the sunset with a full pension at a major’s salary. But alas, the story didn’t end that way. He was advised by a friend of his that this was a bad idea because after he left the force, the secret would eventually get out and the outcome would be catastrophic. Colvin didn’t care. He put his time in and he was going to give the bosses what they wanted on his way out the door. But he ultimately paid severely for his actions.
LeBron and his compatriots, on the other hand, will not meet the same fate. They will live Bunny Colvin’s dream. They changed the way business is done in the NBA much to the chagrin of the guys in charge and when the time comes for the brass to exact their revenge, the main culprits will be nowhere to be found. Guys like LeBron, KD, Harden, and everyone else will either be retired or well on their way when the fallout comes. LeBron won’t be taken to Compstat to get chewed out, embarrassed, and relieved of command. But please believe he’ll leave the same mess behind him that Colvin did.
Again this is not to bash LeBron. It’s just a fact. The next generation of NBA players will be left to deal with the fallout of the previous era’s actions. Let’s talk about the fallout for a second. On “The Wire” after the Hamsterdam debacle failed and the dealers were relegated back to the corners, the beat cops were instructed to brutalize them in every way possible to re-establish dominance. They wanted them to be certain that whatever temporary luxury they experienced in the free zones, as they called them on the show, was gone forever. Trust and believe this will be the tone the owners want to set during the next round of collective bargaining talks. They want to re-establish dominance and control. They’ve been at the mercy of these players a little too long for their liking. And even though they won’t be exacting revenge on the culprits, they will take solace in the fact that things will be returning to normal.
Please allow me to emphasize this is not an attack on player empowerment or the players who took advantage of it. I know we all cringed when the details of Scottie Pippen’s contract woes were outlined in The Last Dance. We all wanted a better situation for him. And while I doubt things will go back to the days of playing for peanuts on long-term deals, some folks will most assuredly get bumped back down to lieutenant.