The NBA’s players can win the PR war, but they should attempt to end the mess

The kids are back in school, the NFL is about to spark up, and the NCAA isn't far off from tipping off its own hoops season. September is a few days, and the NBA has made absolutely no inroads or advancement as it "attempts" to bargain with its players. The 2011 lockout is about to finish its second full month, and absolutely nothing has been accomplished.

Outside of, surprisingly, a warming lack of blowhard dialogue from either side. David Stern and his owners haven't gone too far over the top in presenting their case, and no player has really done much to either embarrass or take away from the message emanating from the other side.

Training camps are set to start just about a month from now, though. And if you think a July 1 mindset -- a dogged adherence to pre-lockout talking points, and absolutely no consideration for the lives and fortunes lost by potentially losing a single preseason week to this lockout counts as any sort of advancement -- then you're probably part of the legal counsel representing either side of this mess. The owners and the players don't have a car to park, a ticket to take, a section to sweep, a keg to change, an ankle to tape, or a column to type up. No wonder they haven't moved an inch.


This doesn't mean there hasn't been some advancement. At this time, back in 1998, the North American sporting world had its eyes fixed upon Sammy Sosa and (mainly) Mark McGuire as they chased down Roger Maris' home run record with a litany of locker room supplements and not a dose (no pun intended; and this is from a St. Louis Cardinals fan) of shame. With Michael Jordan all but retired and the eyes of a sports-mad nation fixed elsewhere, the NBA's players could afford to act like absolute morons as they "argued" their side of a collective bargaining agreement that (somehow, smartly) just handed Kevin Garnett a $121 million deal just two years after he graduated high school.

Still, the players screwed it up. Not the deal, which worked out in their favor. Instead, it was the way they attempted to articulate their case, while hoping that Kevin Garnett's contract somehow turned into [David Falk's client's] contract.

And this time around, the players are acting their age. And, according to Howard Beck of the New York Times, this is no co-incidence:

"It was a huge emphasis," Derek Fisher, the president of the National Basketball Players Association, said in a telephone interview. "The reality is, we're in a great position, where guys have worked to put themselves in this place where they can potentially earn millions of dollars."


At Fisher's direction, the union last fall distributed a 56-page lockout handbook to its 400-plus players. Tucked between tabs on "budgeting" and "player services" is a section devoted to "media," with talking points on everything from the N.B.A.'s financial losses ("vastly overstated") to franchise values ("Warriors just sold for $450M").

But the key point, perhaps, is this simple reminder: "Please be sensitive about interviews or other media displays of a luxurious lifestyle."

Things have changed, and that goes beyond David Falk-sponsored athletes like Patrick Ewing or Kenny Anderson speaking as if the rest of the NBA-watching public was making an average of nearly eight figures a year.

In 1998, you had newspapers, and TV. That was it. You'll have to believe me when I tell you I wrote for the most popular non-mainstream NBA website (years before these things were called "blogs"), as evidenced by its status amongst the six NBA sites (your typical 2011-era NBA bookmarks, plus and The Sporting News) you would see upon typing in "NBA" into any search engine. And our take didn't make a dent in anyone's line of thinking.

We tried. Not because we had a side in the fight, but because we knew the league. And despite the out-of-touch idiocy of some NBA players during the 1998 lockout, we still fell on their side because we knew better about what owners should have done better with the 1995 CBA.

In 2011? We know better. And the 2011 lockout is the owners' fault.

But if the 2011 lockout results in missed NBA games? Then it will be the players' fault.

This is not a change of heart. The owners had the blueprint in place to at least come close to working with shared revenue streams and various aspects of the 1999-era collective bargaining agreement (especially as modified in 2005) to keep salaries under control and say "no thanks" when it came to overpaying players and using smarts and analytics to sign a reasonable replacement for half the price.

Those owners declined. I don't completely agree with Malcolm Gladwell's assertion that owning an NBA team is a show-offy mess, but he's not far off. The owners could have, and especially should have, done better since 1999. If the summer of 2004 was no indication, then various summers since then should have been. This lockout is their fault. This lockout is the owners' fault. They bargained a bad deal, and then somehow utilized the worst aspects of it while they bid against themselves for players who didn't deserve what a supposedly player-grating CBA should have resulted in.

Why should this burden fall on the players? Why should they take the fall for pound-foolish business practices gone wrong? Why should a player earning a second contract in 2015 pay for an owner that foolishly bought his team for 200 percent of what it was worth in 2005?

I can't tell you. There's no legitimate reason why. Mortgaging the future of the type of player who will gladly take the jobs of NBA Players Association leaders like Derek Fisher and Maurice Evans in 2013 should be no concern to either Fisher and Evans (that old deli; or comedy team), current players that will stick with this league beyond 2015, or the rookies drafted last or this year. The NBA's players shouldn't give in.

But they should. And beyond all the rhetoric, they know it. It's not that it's their turn, but … well, it's their turn.

The players made out in 1995. They made out in 1999, and they killed it again in 2005. Their fault? Hardly.

Their burden, to a game that owes them so much? To a group of incoming players set to sign to a league years from now? A league that North Americans could want nothing to do with for years on end following a missed 2011-12?  Catastrophic for those impending NBA-types that are a few years away.

Talk about the future employees that could be hurt by a bad deal, NBAPA. Try and remove the rhetoric and consider the future employees that will be hurt by a deal that costs all of 2011-12, NBAPA. You think that Jim in the Titans hat gives a crap about some 2014-15 rookie? He cares about a boring Thursday night next February, because "Community" is too "meta" for him, and he doesn't even know what "meta" means. I'm right there with him. I got the "Dinner With Andre" reference, I loved it, but I also like the Spurs/Nuggets game.

Jim also wants to watch the early LeBron and Derrick Rose contest, and the halftime bits that feature Charles Barkley. Why don't you get that, players and owners? This won't last.

The players? They've "given up" quite a bit. Now it's time to see how the other side feels.

The players took on rookie contracts so as to save payrolls to make it so the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks could afford to pay players 2-through-15 after the rookies were signed to guaranteed deals. They took on massive guaranteed contracts that were grandfathered into an era that supported ridiculous deals spent with no smart plan in place. The players dealt with an "average player" contract in the Mid-Level Exception that handed out five or six years to average players, forgetting of course that average players usually don't play that way after a year or so.

This is the owners' fault. This is their mess. But if the players want to keep goodwill, as discussed in the piece written by Howard Beck, then they have to step up. They have to understand that it is their turn.

Back in 1998, nobody was excited. Jordan was gone. Rodman was in Los Angeles with something called a "Carmen Electra" (read: kids? She was like Kim Kardashian, except she was a lot funnier). Nobody really cares about the NBA in late August of 2011, and they shouldn't. But that doesn't mean the goose is less golden.

This squawking bird is better off. It's a mess, no doubt, but that mess brings in the ratings. Players should know this. Times are different -- back in 1997-98, there were three nationally televised nights on TBS and TNT to work through. Right now? TNT's Thursday night (with 26 NBA teams, and all their players potentially watching, off the clock) reigns supreme. When Ernie Johnson Jr., Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley discuss the "issues" of the week, players pay attention. They're watching. You know they are.

Times are more engaged. And the world's lots larger than it looks today, now that the Internet and easy texts are at an arm's length. But, somehow, that brings everyone closer.

And though the players are under no obligation to settle for anything, they're sort of obligated to understand what came before them, how things were perverted, how they (and players that will never sniff the NBA again) took advantage, and what they should do from here on out.

It's on them. This is the owners' mess.

And this is the players' duty. The percentages in their favor have to come down. They have to help buy gas, on that jet ride from Orlando to Memphis. They have to fall back.

Again, this lockout is the owners' fault.

But if the NBA doesn't play a game in November? That's on the players. Don't stop for a second before blaming anyone else.