The NBA Players Association's press conference following Thursday's volatile negotiations was a sad state of affairs.
They called the NBA owners, with deputy commissioner Adam Silver speaking on the owners' behalf, liars -- telling the assembled media that Silver and his associates fudged the backroom dialogue in their walk between the negotiating table and the press podium.
They complained about Paul Allen, essentially the owners' version of Kevin Garnett, showing up to meetings for the first time to shuttle whatever progress the two sides had made under federal mediator George Cohen (who has given up on these two sides, by the way) earlier this week.
They complained about the NBA owners refusing to negotiate unless there was the "precondition" of an agreement to a 50/50 split of basketball-related income (BRI), as if the players haven't been negotiating under preconditions all along. The two sides didn't speak until August and not extensively until the last two weeks. The owners get to deny the players the money the owners legally and in good faith guaranteed to players in contracts the owners signed. Those aren't preconditions?
They complained about wanting to go over "system" requirements, so to speak, to make more "palatable" (to use NBAPA executive director Billy Hunter's words) so they could then move on to that BRI split.
"Palatable?" You want to go over more numbers and matters and even minutiae so that a 50/50 split could seem more "palatable" to you? Director, this was never going to be "palatable." Not by degrees, not in a vacuum. These owners had you over a barrel years ago, once they extended a tinkered-to version of the 1999 CBA in 2005, and then started selling teams at record prices before the country's economy tanked. This was never going to be palatable to you once the NBA floated the "oh-that-makes-sense" 50/50 split for all but the NBA junkies to glom onto. Give in? No, it's much more complicated than that.
But if you really are focused on getting back to playing for the communities that Derek Fisher kept referring to in his news conference, and for the fans who want to see basketball, you're going to have to agree to a split the NBA would deem "palatable," so they can give in a bit on the minutiae they see as flexible. Sad and sick, but true.
(You no doubt already have, but it might be time to go re-read Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski's take on where both sides stand -- to very specific detail -- following the latest batch of failed negotiations.)
Remember, some of these owners still want to overpay for players who don't deserve it. They're thinking about their payroll, but they're also thinking about just how in the hell they're going to add depth in the backcourt next summer with the terms this new CBA is holding over them.
Even the small-market owners. Especially the small-market owners. At the heart of every owner that bought these teams, even the nouveau wave that swear up and down they wouldn't mind missing a year, is a hapless fan who thinks Josh Childress is the answer. That's not me being naïve and flowery. That's me being cynical about these mugs.
But what of the real concessions the players have already given in to? Well, that's kind of how leveraged negotiation goes, guys.
There are certain generations, in whatever form or field you want to discuss, that are going to be bent over a barrel no matter how much they contribute, and how much they scream about the injustice (and it is, and will be an injustice) until they're blue in the face. Jason Kapono told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports that "players have been more than fair with their concessions." Of course they have. That's not the point. This was never going to be about a "OK-your-turn" step down from 57 percent. This was always going to be a beating. This was always going to be, "Please, just don't hit my face."
Did you not think, that after two days' worth of shifting and moving and letting someone else besides Silver and David Stern run the show, that the owners weren't going to steel their resolve in frantic sessions on Wednesday night? Did you expect conciliatory gestures after you turned down a late-night then early morning meeting to discuss figures mid-afternoon on Thursday as if nothing had happened the night before between the owners? Billy Hunter seemed gobsmacked that the owners started things off by refusing to discuss other subjects (both middling and significant) before the players accepted a "take-it-or-leave-it" 50/50 BRI split. How could they have possibly expected anything else?
The owners, as a whole, never wanted to play the season's first or possibly second month. Sure, the teams in big cities will miss it, but they also rely on those dozens of other teams to keep their league afloat, so they settled in under that umbrella (unlike, say, agents of the NBA's top stars -- and the stars that followed them). Do NBA players really think owners are keen on preparing for those weekday nights when 7,500 people trundle through a snowstorm in Cleveland to see two dodgy teams when the rest of the country watches "Glee"? Or its sainted football heroes, be they pro (NFL) or semi-pro (NCAA)?
If players want perspective under their own terms, with neon lights and an open bar available, they should walk into any massive sports bar with 42 TVs available on Monday night.
See how many people are watching the pivotal (or possibly even deciding) Game 5 of the World Series, and see how many are watching a basic cable televised showing of a crummy Baltimore-Jacksonville NFL game. It will be 5-to-1 in football's favor, I promise. You can be marginalized, NBA. You have been. I've seen them watch silent (MUTED!) ticker fantasy football previews on Friday nights at sports bars, by large margins, instead of a live Kobe-vs.-Carmelo Friday night ESPN game. In the fourth quarter, mind you. And I live in Indiana.
The NBA is growing, it really is. But like the rest of this country, the middle class has all but disappeared. It's either teams printing money, or teams that you can't possibly fathom just how they survive year to year, even with those national TV contracts.
In a lockout, though, that disparity is flipped. Michael Jordan doesn't have to water down the Gatorade for two months. Michael Heisley doesn't have to tell the person on the other line, "I thought we paid that?" Nobody has to shovel out Drew Gooden's parking space in Milwaukee.
You've done well to not be bent over a barrel, NBA players, because that was the owners' hope all along, with the juice card needed to roll the barrel out. And no amount of poorly conceived mixed metaphors can convince you to either sell out your stars or sell out your next generation of players by signing away all that long-term growth just as you're on the cusp of it. But that's the point of these, sadly, needlessly cyclical things. You have to make it so the Charlottes and Milwaukees of the world don't want to miss a game on Nov. 3, 2018. That's up to those teams more than it is up to you, but that's sort of the way it goes when you're an employee. Even if you're the one doing all the heavy lifting.
These terms aren't fair, in my eyes. A tick above 50 percent (whatever that entails, as we've discussed) for the players, if even for purely symbolic terms (OK, maybe I am naïve), seems like a starting point.
Guaranteed profits for poor basketball businessmen should be guaranteed no more than Rashad McCants' second NBA contract. The owners are flat wrong, in every way. Wrong in the way they purchased their teams, wrong in how they've run them, wrong in how they've handled this lockout (even to their own hoped-for ends), and wrong in the way they have not bargained in good faith. The owners never wanted to play in November.
And you have made concessions, real concessions, NBA players. And this isn't coming from someone dying to start writing about NBA games again. Frankly, I'm burned out, even with no games in four months. I could use the break I didn't get during the offseason. The owners are being prats. I get that, players. You've given in, and they haven't, despite their talk of "concessions."
It's time, though. Because it's only going to get worse. No, David Stern didn't technically break the union, but he did unofficially. Just in the same way that Derrick Rose doesn't really break Andre Miller's actual ankles -- he just gets to waltz in for the easy lay-in while his team goes up real, real big.
And there's no coming back from this deficit.
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