By Mark Heisler
Apocalypse now, or not.
The worst was about to come to pass, the majority of the media had predicted, wisely or in search of ever-more dire scenarios and ever-bigger headlines, as talks broke off last week with the NBA seemingly prepared to cancel its openers.
Actually, the preferred press scenario was doomsday, the cancellation of more than the openers … like the entire 2011-12 season.
Seeing any small part of it come true would have made everyone nuts, prompting speculation about the death of the NBA and a world without U.S. professional basketball.
For beginners, terms to remember would start with “bleep-all” (Canadian slang, for “nothing”), “mucking it up the corners” (beats me) and, most important, “stoned by a hot goalie” (NHL version of NBA coaches saying, “We got a lot of good looks, the ball just wouldn’t go in.”)
And then, Sunday afternoon, we had our “This just in!” moment.
Union head Billy Hunter had canceled his Sunday night flight to a union meeting in Los Angeles for an 11th-hour, last-ditch meeting with Commissioner David Stern!
What would could go wrong now?
Oh yeah, everything that has gone wrong to this point.
Nevertheless, whatever happens, the recent turn in the talks suggests this will be resolved sooner rather than later, at least to me.
One thing was sure: After two years of bellicose posturing, the last weeks of September and the first few days of October would show who was serious.
Not only was that true, Stern wound up extending his drop-dead date for opening on time to Oct. 10.
Overheated as this thing has been, with owners who sensed their last great opportunity threatening to burn their village to save it, the last three weeks saw the parties whittle their “irreconcilable” differences down to three percentage points.
Stern, originally having sought 57 percent of revenue, moved to a 50-50 split.
The players offered to take 53 percent, hinting they might go to 52.
By then, the rest of the “issues” had been set aside.
Stern stopped “leaving open” drastic-to-the-point-of-incredulity options like contracting the league-supported team in New Orleans.
Cuts to the players’ existing contracts slipped down the memory hole.
The hard salary cap, which the owners sought, and abandoned, in every negotiation since adopting it in the ’80s, fell off the table again in favor of the best dollar deal.
With the owners now offering 50 percent, meaning Stern may be willing to offer them 51 percent … the players’ suggestion they might take 52 percent means they may take 51 percent.
Meet the most likely deal point: 51 percent.
Can they really rumble over a difference that small?
You wouldn’t think so, but the answer, in a word, is yes.
In that case, there go the openers, and things will have to get worse again before they got better.
There’s a lot of ill will when people can’t make a deal they’ve worked on, more or less, for months.
So, guess whose fault it would be?
The other guys!
Both sides would say they’ve made their best offer and must consider their new situation, with the damage the other side has caused to their enterprise.
Happily, at $167 million per week of missed games — the first significant money anyone has lost — they couldn’t knock off two months in disgust, as they did after the failure of pretend-negotiations before the July 1 lockout.
Nothing that has happened recently couldn’t have been anticipated, and, in fact, I did.
What was different was the years-long run-up, hyped to (happily) never-before-seen levels by the new sensation-seeking, globally-tabloid media, and the delighted NBA, normally a prime target for the same media, playing its “lunatics are running the asylum” card.
The owners were supposedly crazed, leaving Stern the last voice of reason.
Even Hunter acknowledged his belief in that one.
Of course, Stern didn’t mind if everyone — team officials, players — confided their fear that the season was in peril … which would have meant more if any of them had any idea what was really on Stern’s mind.
Not even Stern’s owners are sure of that. Adam Silver, his deputy commissioner, has been surprised once or twice, himself.
In recent weeks, when it became time to walk the walk, the owners showed they wanted a season more than structural change.
For that, I congratulate them. If they did have problems — distribution of profits, as much as the amount — I never thought it was as bad as they said it was.
Now they’re just talking about the split, only three percentage points apart.
Even these guys can surmount that, I think.
Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops. His columns appear each Monday.