In six days, the NBA will pay players on its normal twice-monthly schedule. After that, the league may invoke the force majeure clause in the collective bargaining agreement, which would allow it to stop paying players on their contracts while the coronavirus continues to force the NBA into hiatus.
By rule, the NBA would be allowed to withhold 1/92.6nd of each player’s salary for each game missed. For Stephen Curry, the league’s highest-paid player at $40.1 million, that amounts to about $433,000 per game. For players on the rookie minimum, that amounts to $9,697 per game.
NBA players make significant amounts of money, of course, but there have been players sounding off on how unprepared for a withholding of salaries some of their brethren around the league may be.
Lakers guard Danny Green, speaking on ESPN, said that with the uncertainty caused by the spread of the coronavirus, some players had better tighten their belts in the coming weeks and, perhaps, months.
“We have to be very smart with our money,” Green said, “and plan that it might be some time before we play again.”
‘It’s Going to Get Really, Really Bad’
That echoes what Blazers star Carmelo Anthony said on the night the league announced that the NBA season would be suspended. Speaking to teammate C.J. McCollum on his podcast, Pull Up with C.J. McCollum, Anthony said that he knows players who are not financially prepared for a stoppage in play. “It’s going to get bad,” Anthony said. “It’s going to get really, really bad.”
He elaborated: “It forces us as athletes to educate ourselves on financial literacy, what it means to save money, what it means to start portfolios. This is that time because this just happened. Nobody knew this was going to happen. So we are always like—okay we’re good, okay I got this money, I got that money. It’s not until you hit a crisis when you really understand how much money you have and what you have in the bank and what you don’t have in the bank. You start paying close attention to taxes and checks and what you’re spending.”
Many veteran players have been through extended time without paychecks before, in the 2011 NBA lockout. But in that case, word of a potential lockout was going around league locker rooms for the entire previous season.
The coronavirus, though, came on suddenly. That has made things that much more difficult, Green said.
“This is very different than the lockout,” Green said. “We were able to prepare for the lockout, know that there wasn’t going to be basketball for some time and save up. This time, guys were not prepared for this, this happened out of nowhere.
“So they’ve gotta be smart with these last two checks that we’ve received. We may be getting past that, we don’t know yet. If we don’t play the rest of the season, it will affect our check and playoffs as well. So we don’t know. Everything is kind of on hold.”
Players Have an Escrow Buffer
There are different levels of alarm around the NBA on the matter. One prominent agent told Heavy.com that if the NBA plays again this season, players can withstand the loss of a portion of the regular season. Each year, NBA players pay into an escrow fund that gets paid back to them after the finances of the league are tallied.
Most teams have only about 20 percent of their games remaining on the schedule. Even in the event of a season cancelation, the escrow would give players a buffer.
“Canceling the season would hurt, it would hurt a lot,” the agent said. “But if they are able to get back on the floor and play a few regular-season games before they start the playoffs, the tradeoff is not going to be too bad. There will be a hit but I don’t think it is a cause for panic.”
Still, on the whole, the players are going to bear some financial burden in all of this. There’s no chance that if the NBA comes back, it will finish its full 82-game schedule.
As Michele Roberts, head of the NBA’s union, told The Athletic, “It’s not going to be insignificant. If we end up having to shut the season down, they will not be insignificant at all. And the players know that and no one is willing to give up all hope. Now, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to be as optimistic today as it was yesterday.”