Sunday, October 16, 2011

NBA Armageddon 2011: Days of Destiny

The next 48 hours could determine if the 2011-12 NBA season is going to be played. A week ago, to no one’s surprise, NBA Commissioner David Stern cancelled the first two weeks of the regular season. However a series of interviews Stern conducted with NBA TV Thursday suggested he is serious about cancelling the 2011-12 NBA season unless he see’s a dramatic turnabout in negotiations.

"Each side is going to meet with the mediator on Monday, and if there's a breakthrough, it's going to come on Tuesday," Stern said in an interview for NBA TV. "And if not, I think that the season is really going to potentially escape from us, because we aren't making any progress ... how many times does it pay to keep meeting, and to have the same things thrown back at you? We're ready to sit down and make a deal. I don't believe that the union is. Hopefully by Tuesday, aided by the mediator, they'll be ready to make a deal. Certainly I'll bring my owners ready to make a deal."

NBAPA executive director Billy Hunter released the following statement after meeting with 30 or so players Friday in Los Angeles.

"If somebody wants to point a gun at my head, I'm going to point one back at him.”

"It's not just the players that are going to suffer if there are games lost. What [Stern] has failed to reveal to you is the amount of economic damage [the owners] are going to suffer," Hunter said. "The pain is mutual. If you're going to inflict some pain on the players, there is going to be some pain inflicted on them as well.

George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, has agreed to lend his services to the two parties. Cohen offered his assistance to the NFL and the NFLPA during their labor battle. Despite a deal eventually being reached, Cohen didn’t play a role in the end result.

"I have participated in separate, informal, off-the-record discussions with the principals representing the NBA and the NBPA concerning the status of their collective bargaining negotiations," Cohen said in a statement issued by the Washington-based FMCS.

"It is evident that the ongoing dispute will result in a serious impact, not only upon the parties directly involved, but also, of major concern, on interstate commerce -- i.e., the employers and working men and women who provide services related to the basketball games, and, more generally, on the economy of every city in which those games are scheduled to be played."

You don’t have to read between the lines to hear how disappointed Stern was that the two sides failed to reach an agreement last Monday after meeting for more than 12 hours.

“The union calls on Sunday morning and says can we meet at 6 p.m., we were there and ready to go. We then met Monday and went until 11 p.m. and at that point there was no reason to continue meeting. If this is the place where we are, and we are and not locked into any particular position but the losses continue to accrue to the owners, the offers cannot get better. Just know this is not an official statement it's jut an observation, but just knowing the losses the league is suffering is going to change the economic situating of the league. I think the union is being intransigent at the current place. When the offers start getting worse to reflect the economic damage done to the teams then where is the deal?"

"How many times does it pay to keep meeting and have the same things thrown back at you. We are ready to sit down and make a deal. I don't believe that the union is. But hopefully by Tuesday, aided by the mediator, they will be able to make a deal and certainly I will bring my owners ready to make a deal. Unlike Billy Hunter, you will never hear me say something is a "blood issue.”

“That would be an unfair labor practice charge, but we didn't pursue it because refusing to negotiate on an issue is what's called a failure to bargain. We assume it's just rhetoric but we've met it. We haven't said anything is a "blood issue" and we've moved a lot and we aren't giving any secrets away. If the union came in with a deal that made sense I would certainly urge my owners to accommodate them, but we haven't seen that yet."

Stern’s job is to get the best collective bargaining agreement he can for the owners. Billy Hunter’s job is to get the best collective bargaining agreement he can for the players.

Is Stern’s tough talk rhetoric or is there truth behind his threats?

It’s probably a little of both. At this point Stern and Hunter are doing their best to rally their troops. Stern only has to keep 30 owners quiet. He and NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver speak on behalf of the league.

Billy Hunter, on the other hand, has to contend with hundreds of NBA players voicing their opinions. It’s not easy to maintain a consistent message when many different players are speaking out.

Miami Heat captain Dwyane Wade told Associated Press that the lockout affects everyone.

“The longer it goes on, the more fans we’re going to lose,” Wade said.

Wade stated that he’s impressed with how the league has delivered its message to the media and he’s less then impressed with the message the players have been getting out to the press.

“We haven’t done a great job of complaining,” Wade said. “That’s what the NBA has done, they’ve done a great job of complaining. We haven’t done a great job of that so no one sees our side. They more so see the owners’ side.”

The NBA has created their own labor website and releases transcripts of David Stern’s interviews. It’s easy to say the NBAPA doesn’t have the resources the owners do but that would be a poor excuse.

Billy Hunter knew a major labor battle was brewing for years. He had more than enough time to get ready. By contrast, the NFLPA did a masterful job throughout their labor dispute.

“Let’s just take the owners and the NBA saying we want every team to be competitive,” Wade said. “We want every team to have the same chips to start with. You tell me that corporations and business around the world that every is equal one and I’ll show you a lie. You have some up here, you have some down here. That’s the game. We have some huge markets. We have some small markets.

“To me, it’s not about who has the most chips,” Wade added in the AP report. “I think it’s about who manages their chips the right way. That’s why I think we have a management problem. Small markets have won championships. San Antonio is a very small market and they have four championships in the last 10 years or whatever the case may be. So I don’t know how you ever fix it unless you have realistic goals. It has to get a little more realistic and right now, it’s not.”

David Stern talked about which current sports CBAs he likes.

"The reality is we like the NFL system, we like the NHL system, but our players don't. And since the money is guaranteed, which is the point that everyone always misses, they (players/union) say the cap is designed to push down the money the players would earn. Wrong. The cap is a way that's used to distribute the money the way they do it in the NFL. Like what's done in Green Bay, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and all those small market teams that win Super Bowls."

Which comes back to the NBA’s insistence of a hard salary cap. The current “soft” cap allows teams to pay a dollar for dollar tax for every dollar they exceed the league’s mandated salary cap.

“The reason they (NFL teams) can compete is because they have a hard cap so that no team has the ability to bust through the cap and pay more because they share it all, sharing more of it together with a hard cap makes it more competitive."

Hunter spoke with the Los Angeles Times and made it clear the biggest issue players is the owners insistence of a hard cap.

“The players are insistent there be no hard salary cap. If they [owners] keep pushing for the type of salary cap they've indicated, we'll give up any percentage to share in the league's future growth. We've already said we won't accept that proposal they've given."

Hunter met with a group of NBA players in Los Angeles on Friday.

"There's definitely some guys in there saying that they're ready to fold," Washington Wizards center JaVale McGee said. "But the majority are ready to stand strong."

Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute told ESPN he disagreed with McGee, saying "there's no such thing as player folding."

"We all know where we're at. Players understand where we're at. There's no players folding," Mbah a Moute told ESPN when he exited the meeting. "We've all been together since this whole process and we're going to stay together. We've made a lot of concessions so far, so it's up to the owners now to start having a fair deal."

"We haven't played dirty pool, put owners on the spot and tried to undress them in the media," players' association vice president Maurice Evans said. "Because we still are optimistic and hopeful that a deal can be reached.

"But it has to be said. For those owners who are under the impression, or have been led to believe that they will be just fine because of the deal they will ultimately get, whether it's one month, three months, six months, next year, that's a falsehood."

Before Friday's meeting, Hunter told ESPN: "I've got a group of ballplayers who are sophisticated enough and they've said to me, 'Billy, hold the line. This is what we want you to do.' So I'm doing the players' bidding. I may be negotiating with a short deck, or a small deck, but we're negotiating.

"So while we're willing to make some concessions, which we've already demonstrated, we're not willing to do or make as many concessions as the NBA wants us to make," Hunter continued. "It's too disproportionate. It doesn't make sense. Particularly when our players are the product."

"If everybody begins to dig into their respective positions, then I think the league will be decimated. It took us five years to recover from the 1998 lockout and there's probability that we may never recover [from this lockout]," Hunter told ESPN before Friday's sit-down with players. "I think there will be some teams that won't survive. Particularly if the season gets shut down, there will be teams that will not be around next year."

Unless George Cohen orchestrates a parting the Red Sea type miracle, it’s hard to believe the two sides will come close to an agreement in the next 48 hours.

Is David Stern really serious about blowing up the entire 2011-12 NBA season in the third week of October? Of course not, but it’s reasonable to assume Stern will cancel hundreds of games (likely the games through Christmas Day) this week to send a message to the players that the owners are serious.

It’s not hard to believe the Dwayne Wade’s of the NBA are ready to sit out the 2011-12 NBA season to make a point. Wade makes between $25 and $30 million from his off-court endorsements alone. Wade’s Miami Heat contract of more than $7 million a year seems like pocket change in comparison.

The average NBA career is just over four years and the average salary is $5.15 million. Guys like the Big Three in Miami (Wade, Lebron James and Chris Bosh) don’t have to worry about short careers. They don’t have worry or about an entire NBA season being canceled.

However, there are hundreds of NBA players who will start to think about that scary possibility in the coming days and weeks. Those are the NBA players David Stern is sending his message too.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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