Negotiation & Arbitration Take Center Court: Highlighting The New York Times’ Coverage of the N.B.A. Salary Cap
J.D. Candidate, Moritz College of Law 2020
On June 29, 2019, the N.B.A. issued a concise statement providing its 2019-20 season salary cap. This salary cap became effective on July 1, 2019. The N.B.A.’s brief message stands in sharp contrast to the convoluted, exception-riddled 650-page collective bargaining agreement which defines the terms of the salary cap. Sopan Deb, a cultural reporter for The New York Times, provides insight to the cap, the surrounding rules, and the league’s ensuing enforcement challenge.
The N.B.A. salary cap is a product of a collective bargaining agreement entered into by the league and players’ association in 2017. In theory, the salary cap promotes competitive fairness by preventing the wealthiest teams from hoarding the most talented players. A panel of ten individuals, known collectively as the “cap group”, play a critical role in facilitating an agreement which Deb describes as “arguably the most complex in professional sports.” The group is charged with enforcing the cap and advising teams on how best to navigate the agreement’s complicated requirements. Furthermore, each trade in the N.B.A. requires a conference between the two teams and the cap group. Unsurprisingly, certain team officials’ goals are to circumvent the restrictions and acquire their desired players. The cap group must strike a careful balance in its operations between holding teams accountable without causing conflict between the league and the players’ union. When players disagree with the cap group’s interpretation of the agreement, an arbitration process kicks in. For example, a debate ensued between the league and players’ union over “Bird Rights” or the ability to exceed the salary cap and offer a raise to a player who has been on the team for three years. Players retain these rights when they are traded. In arbitration, the players’ union successfully argued that this exception should also apply to players placed on waiver, where any team may submit a claim for that player’s contract. Consequently, in this multi-billion-dollar industry, a team of ten makes the most influential plays.
 NBA Salary Cap set at $109.14 Million, NBA (June 29, 2019, 8:48 PM ET), https://www.nba.com/article/2019/06/29/nba-salary-cap-2019-20-season-set-10914-million.
 Sopan Deb, Do You Understand the N.B.A. Salary Cap? Imagine Enforcing It, The N.Y. Times (Aug. 20, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/20/sports/basketball/nba-salary-cap.html.
Deb, supra note 2.
 Gary Phillips, NBA Sets Salary Cap At $109.14 Million For 2019-20 Campaign, Forbes (June 30, 2019, 9:54 AM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/garyphillips/2019/06/30/nba-sets-salary-cap-at-10914-million-for-2019-20-campaign/#7b8aec4c7a37.
 What is a Salary Cap in Sports? Online Sports Mgmt. Kansas Univ., (last accessed Sept. 12, 2019), https://onlinesportmanagement.ku.edu/community/salary-caps-in-sports.
 Deb, supra note 2.
 Brad Adgate, Why The 2017-18 Season Was Great for The NBA, Forbes (Apr. 25, 2018), https://www.forbes.com/sites/bradadgate/2018/04/25/the-2017-18-season-was-great-for-the-nba/#3f817b332ecb.