The NBA CBA and What it All Means

We are only a few days into NBA free agency, and the media has reported that nearly every free agent is headed to nearly every team in the NBA. Although these stories are mostly hogwash stemming from a system where sports agents use the media to drive the price of players' contracts, one thing is helpful in navigating this media storm - understanding the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. While even the semi-savvy sports fan has likely heard of the "CBA," the most advanced fan likely does not understand it.

Simply put, a collective bargaining agreement is the result of negotiations between an employer and a group of employees regarding employment conditions. Collective bargaining is not exclusive to sports; federal and state laws, administrative agency regulations, and judicial decisions govern it. The National Labor Relations Act enacted by Congress in 1935 explicitly grants the right to employees to collectively bargain.

So what does the Association's CBA do? The NBA CBA provides rules that govern the contracts between teams and players. If one of those contracts has any provision that is not explicitly permitted by the CBA, the contract will be null and void. In other words, the CBA ensures that NBA contracts between teams and players are uniform - there is little to no fanciful drafting by inventive agents these days.

There are only a few things left to negotiation between a team and a player; namely, compensation, loans, bonuses, extra promotional appearances, and payment schedules. However, even the negotiation room regarding those things is limited by provisions that dictate when, how, and with whom things can be agreed. Nearly everything else is uniform - benefits, meal allowances, moving expenses; all of those things are spelled out with great specification by the CBA.

The past few days, we have heard endless talk about salary caps, luxury taxes, and max contracts; but the CBA is much more than just a lesson in accounting. There is little that slips through the cracks - want to know what happens to the pension plans of players in Toronto? There's a provision for that. Want to know what happens if an NBA player gets drafted by the military? The CBA will tell you.

There is also language that governs player conduct - lots and lots of it. Reading through the CBA player conduct rules is like reading a history of what the NBA has learned the hard way. A player cannot bring a firearm to a team facility, a player must have valid drivers license to drive his car, and if convicted of a violent felony, a player will be suspended for at least ten games. The CBA also provides preventative measures concerning player conduct - all NBA players are required each season to attend a media-training course (it appears some pay attention more than others), and an anti-gambling course.

Of course, there is also lots of elaborate language regarding lump sums, equity percentages, and accounting schedules if that suits your fancy, but I don't get paid near enough to give you a full analysis of all of that stuff…yet (any takers?) The most important thing to know is through these news stories claiming that such-and-such will be playing for so-and-so next season, there is only so much negotiating that can occur between any one team and any one player. Most things are pre-determined by the CBA. Other than some raw numbers, most teams and players do not have nearly as much talking to do as we might assume, which is why things like superstar players and championship rings become the center of negotiation tactics during weeks such as this (I'm looking at you, Riley; break out those rings one more time, Sir).