By Chris Sheridan
NEW YORK — From my e-mail inbox, sent by an NBA fanatic who I know personally:
“The season isn’t going to start on time. The players trust the player agents to successfully manage their careers more so than Derek Fisher (a ball player) and Billy Hunter (who is no match for David Stern). Who do you have more confidence in to get you the best deal? That memo did nothing but cause more divide in the union and strengthen the players to call the owners’ bluff, IMO. The agents were smart not to trust Hunter and Fisher to get a good deal done. They were giving away the store playing into Stern’s hands way too easily. But then again, You said the very same thing in an earlier article.”
That’s correct, my friend. Every time the players made a concession, I said Stern would put it in his pocket and walk away, offering nothing in return.
He hasn’t budged yet, but his time to give ground has finally arrived.
The key quote from Stern yesterday: “We’re apart on the split,” he said, “but we know that the answer lies between where they were and where we are. And without defining ours, or defining theirs, I think if there’s a will, we’ll be able to deal with both the split and with the system issues.”
So the big question heading in today’s epic clash, er, meeting, between owners and players is whether Stern is ready to play Let’s Make a Deal (click for a rare look at a ’74 Bricklin).
And given how yesterday’s letter from seven of the league’s most prominent agents has opened so many eyes to what has been offered so far, it is time for Stern to back off. If he proposes a 52/48 split, it’ll get ratified. If he goes to 51/49, the ratification vote may come down to a hanging chad or two — a risk Stern is probably willing to take. It it’s 50/50 (including a starting number that represents a cut from the $2.17 billion the players earned last year), he is risking his professional legacy on a single, solitary percentage point.
I do not expect the owners to put their best offer forward today when the sides met at a Times Square hotel. Stern doesn’t play that way. His “last and best” offer to save the scheduled Nov. 1 start of the regular season probably comes Wednesday or Thursday. But even he must realize that he has more to lose than to gain by continuing to play this game of his like a lawyer instead of like an athlete.
I have been saying all along that the people doing this deal are reasonable men, and at a certain point reason and common sense must prevail.
I have seen this movie before, so I am not yet ready to go all doomsday as some of my colleagues are:
Ken Berger, CBSSports.com: “ In considering whether to write this thousand words “setting the table” for tomorrow, I contemplated simply publishing a picture instead — a picture being worth a thousand words. A picture of a fiery inferno would just about do it. Kaboom. Tuesday could be the day when the struggle for economic survival in basketball blows sky high. I have thought for some time that calmer heads would prevail, and that the deal that is so obvious for me to see would be agreed to with no financial casualties — with no real games lost. If I can see the deal — a 52-48 split of revenues in favor of the players, modest but meaningful system changes that would reign in out-of-control spending and raises in the future, and massive revenue sharing enhancements to help low-revenue teams compete — then surely David Stern, Adam Silver, Billy Hunter and Fisher can see it. Ah, but while those will be the people negotiating the deal, they will not be the people approving it or rejecting it. Those would be the owners and the players, who are advised and influenced by their agents. And here is what we know about all of them: • The players tend to get emotional when confronted with the fact that people are endeavoring to take large sums of their money. The agents mean well, and for the most part are trying to protect their clients. But they nonetheless injected themselves into the process again Monday when it was revealed that seven of the most powerful in their ranks made a direct, written appeal to players that doesn’t exactly work in concert with the union’s current predicament. The owners? The very people being counted on to move off their bold bargaining position and secure a fair and reasonable deal with the players? These are the same people who gave Rashard Lewis $118 million and solved that problem by trading him for a washed-up Gilbert Arenas — with a worse, even longer contract. The same people who gave Drew Gooden $32 million and Darko Milicic $20 million. The same people who hired and refused to fire Isiah Thomas, who continue to employ David Kahn, who change general managers like socks in Portland and who fire off rants in comic sans in Cleveland. Not the sharpest implements on the surgical tray, and in any event, not people whose actions can be predicted with any certainty.”
Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports: ”Once again, does Stern want to be the commissioner for everyone on Tuesday, and ultimately spare his sport a bloodbath of courtrooms, lawsuits and maybe a lost 2011-12 season? He needs to gather his owners, propose a deal the players can accept, and understand that this is no time to run up the score on the union. The owners have already won big. Stern’s spent most of his professional life as an unapologetic bully, but this time, enough’s enough. Stern is chasing his own big salary, his own big bonuses, and he knows there’s a deal the players will take that will give his owners a fair chance for profits and competitive balance. He invited this insurrection out of the agents, and now it’s coming. He needs to end it, and spare the NBA a needless bloodbath. Stern doesn’t want the nuclear option of decertification, but he’s forced the players to pursue it. This has been a rigged process for years, and most agents regret only that they didn’t oust Hunter on July 1, when the owners locked them out. Back then, Hunter could’ve stayed as the front man in talks the way the NFLPA’s DeMaurice Smith did in the NFL’s decertification, but not now. Hunter’s done, and the agents can’t wait to unload him. For those who say that this isn’t personal, well, they’re kidding themselves. The fans don’t care about those politics, nor should they. Without the framework of a deal, these next 24 hours could bring an Armageddon that will set back years of NBA momentum. The players have offered givebacks, and Stern and his owners sneered at them. The agents have wanted Stern on a level playing field for years, and they’re determined to sue that smirk off his face. They don’t care about the PR war, they care about winning. Billions of dollars are a stake, and, truth be told, the agents can spare the players the inevitable bad-guy role that the public invariably thrusts upon them in these labor disputes. … Two agents told Yahoo! Sports that it doesn’t matter what happens in the talks today, because they refuse to give back anymore to the owners. They will tell their players to reject any union deal that offers more givebacks to the league, and they’ll hope that decertification will push the owners into negotiating for real. All hell’s going to break loose on Manhattan’s East Side Tuesday, and David Stern has been asking for this agent uprising from the beginning of these labor talks. He’s been asking for the fight of his life, and maybe, the implosion of his sport when this should be a golden time. So, stop the preening, stop the end-zone dance and make those rich guys start to stare at their shoes again. For once, be the commissioner of the NBA, not just the owners. Enough’s enough, bully.”
Ric Bucher, ESPN.com: “I’d love to see a full 2011-12 NBA season that starts on time, but, just as a paid observer, it feels as if the owners crafted the narrative of what these negotiations are all about from the start, and the union — by making immediate concessions — has become an accomplice to presenting a picture of the NBA and its financial health that simply doesn’t completely make sense. How does an industry increase its revenue, in one of the country’s worst economic periods in 80 years, and suggest it is failing? Why would multiple businessmen, smart enough to make themselves into millionaires and billionaires, fight for the chance to join that industry by buying a franchise? And how would the top dog of that industry, commissioner Stern, not only still have his job but be in charge of negotiating the next agreement? And why would squeezing the players, who are not the ones mishandling all that growth, assure that those who are won’t find another way to screw up, if indeed that is actually happening? I don’t know the exact details of the NBA’s financial picture. Neither does the players’ union. By now you’ve heard the figure “$300 million in losses,” which has been repeated so often it is taken as fact. That’s how much Stern says the league’s teams collectively fell short last season. Their financial records on basketball-related income produced that figure, we’re told. The players’ union had enough confidence in it that it offered to compensate the owners for it in the next labor deal, as long as everything else stayed equal. It was a good-faith gesture. The owners mocked it. I’m not sure why the union didn’t realize right then that the owners were intent on dictating a deal — not negotiating one — but it didn’t. It’s common knowledge around the NBA that, as the agents’ letter points out, those financial records don’t account for all sorts of money-making enterprises the owners have and benefit from because they own an NBA franchise. It doesn’t account for owners who bought an arena in conjunction with buying a team, and therefore can reap the profits of staging concerts and conventions and monster-truck rallies. It doesn’t account for the regional TV networks various owners have, where they get to negotiate TV broadcast deals with themselves because televising their teams’ games is the signature content. Maybe the craziest aspect of buying into the owners’ narrative is that what little we do know about the financial picture for the league’s two most profitable teams — the Lakers and New York Knicks – suggests those two teams could finance a profitable league all by themselves. The Lakers just signed a local cable TV deal that will, by industry estimates, increase their profits from that revenue stream alone from $30 million to $150 million. Annually. For the next 20 years. And yet the Knicks, according to several league front-office sources, will remain the most profitable team in the league, as they’ve been for the past decade. This, despite the fact that they’ve made the playoffs twice in the past 10 years with a $100 million-plus player payroll that led the league for many of those years.”