There is a plethora of good basketball books coming out in the next few months, and those are what are composing the bulk of books recently added to the TBR pile. This is one that is coming off and it is fantastic. For a reader who enjoys any book on the business side of sports, I was looking forward to this, but it was even better than expected. Here is my review of "The Cap."
“The Cap: How Larry Fleisher and David Stern Built the Modern NBA" by Joshua Mendelson
Basketball, professional, business, labor relations
October 1, 2020
5 of 5 stars (excellent)
In 1983, the NBA was in a precarious financial situation. The monetary losses of several teams put them on the brink of ruin. A maverick owner was trading away draft picks for veteran players in questionable moves. Players were reaping the benefits of their newly acquired free agency. This led to two adversaries at the bargaining table to create the first salary cap in sports. The road to the NBA salary cap is captured in rich detail in this outstanding book by Joshua Mendelson.
The story of the salary actually began in 1964 when the fledgling NBA players' union, after discussions with their legal counsel Larry Fleisher, threatened to not play that year's NBA All-Star game unless the owners contributed to their pensions. That near-walkout, in which the players waited in the locker room until their concerns were addressed, was the when the resolve of players was tested and held. This was important in the evolution of a lawsuit filed by players, led by Oscar Robertson, that after six years from the initial filing, created free agency for the players.
Fleisher remained with union and was also the agent for several players and was their main person in collective bargaining agreement negotiations. But by 1982, the owners were determined to reverse the explosion in player salaries and stop the losses felt by many franchises. They communicated their demands to the executive vice president of business and legal affairs for the league, a young attorney named David Stern. While Stern and Fleisher were the main voices for their respective sides in the negotiations, it was a tense time as a strike deadline was set for April 2, 1983 if a new agreement was not reached. That was avoided – by one day as on April 1, the sides announced that the new agreement included a salary cap in which teams could not spend more than a certain amount for player salaries, but the players were guaranteed 53 percent of gross revenues collected by the teams.
The entire process, including good chapters on Fleisher and Stern, is well researched by Mendelson and the writing is crisp, easy to understand, and reads like a novel. Making text about the business side of sports intriguing is very difficult to do, but Mendelson does a fantastic job of doing so. While any reader who follows the game and the business would already know that the NBA has a salary cap, following Mendelson's account of the negotiations and the back and forth between sides is very entertaining as well as informative. It reads like a great novel with many plot twists and turns. The build-up to the April 2 strike date makes the reader feel like the end is near (if not already aware of the actual outcome) and with how much action was going on behind the scenes, this is a book about the business side of sports that will one that every sports fan should read.
I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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