Sheridan column (with video): Misplaced optimism explained

By Chris Sheridan

NEW YORK — Well, I guess I forgot they were all lawyers — with an exception for Derek Fisher, who is nonetheless lawyerlike. 

An explanation is owed to my readers for the eternal optimism of the past few weeks. So here it is: I have known all of these men for years, and in the past several months I have looked all of them in the eyes — David Stern, Adam Silver, Billy Hunter, Fisher, Dan Rube, Ron Klempner, Jeffrey Kessler and others — and have spoken to them in detail about the lockout.

There was always one common denominator.

I always perceived the same thing when speaking to each of them: There was always a reasonable endgame, with a reasonable settlement to be reached at the right time. 

And unless David Stern is superbluffing and becomes the next 48-hours-from-zero-to-hero story, the right time has just passed. What the union believes is a “pre-ordained” plan is now the NBA’s cold reality.

From talking to people after the talks ended Monday night, the players felt the owners were piling on with their demands for system changes, trying to run up the score in a negotiation that clearly, from the get-go, was a case study in what is known as concessionary bargaining — a union trying to hang us onto as much as it could from the old labor deal. (When all of us are old and gray, the only unions that will have survived will represent sanitation workers. If you’ve ever endured a garbage-collection strike, you understand.)

The NBA’s owners have clearly already won this battle, and a 51-49 neighborhood deal was there to be made over the past two days of talks.

But those talks never proceeded to the closure stage. In the 11th hours, Sunday and Monday, the principle players ended up being lawyers instead of humans. They wasted valuable time and many billable hours on side issues instead of the real issue, the money issue — the financial split.

And as they all walked out onto East 63rd Street and announced doomsday, all of those same guys mentioned above had the same new looks on their faces: They are uneasy. They are treading dangerously into the unknown, and they are uncertain where this thing is going.

The dynamic of this dispute will now change, with people taking sides. (You can take sides in the new poll on this site’s home page.)

And as I said in my angry Very Short Column filed via Droid (you have no idea what a personal technological achievement that was) moments after Stern announced the cancellation of the first two weeks of the regular season, this is just stupid.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be law students.

Rant over.

More tomorrow and every day thereafter.



  1. Dr. Stein says

    I think a significant mistake that both Chris and the Union made was thinking this was all about dollars for the owners. It was also about making the league more competitive. That’s why the owners came down so hard on teams that go over the luxury tax threshold, especially those that repeatedly do so.

    Under the current system, we see virtually the same teams in the playoffs every year. And those are the teams that don’t mind paying the luxury tax, either because they come from lucrative markets or because their owners don’t mind spending whatever it takes to buy a championship level team.

    Look at the NFL, where teams like Buffalo and San Francisco have gone from being doormats in prior seasons to division leaders this season. The NBA owners are looking for a system where well-run small market teams have a chance to make a playoff run without having to spend luxury tax dollars.

    • Mike says

      Competitive balance was barely a real issue at all. At most it was a pseudo-issue to get a harder cap. The NBA is not the NFL or NHL, you can’t compare them that way. And even so, economists agree that a hard cap is in no way a guarantee to create parity.

    • Karl says

      Memphis, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Cleveland of yesteryear say hello. Competitive balance could be better by limiting the exceptions or going to a hard cap. Or by reworking the draft and sending the more affordable rookie talent to teams that need it. Or having a single elimination playoffs as the NFL that will certainly make it easier for any team to win the playoffs.

  2. Jacob Parks says

    Blame the lawyers? I don’t think so. If attorneys were the only stake holders, this thing would have been over by now. Thats the weakest arguement I have heard yet.

    I’m sure right now Stern and Fisher are thinking to themselves “I really wanted wanted to take the otherside’s deal. Darn. If only I hadn’t let those pesky attorney talk me out of it.”

  3. Guest says

    Sweet, sweet irony. It is ironic that in a post criticizing the entire legal profession—putting aside whether you can paint all lawyers with the same brush, and even if you could, how the fact that some of the negotiators have legal backgrounds matters at all—Sheridan engages in a rambling statement that obfuscates the actual point of the post.

    Let me translate: My name is Chris Sheridan, and I made a mistake. I misread the situation. It was no one’s fault but mine.

    I would have rather he just owned up to his mistake instead of blaming others. The unpredictability of the situation is exactly why no one else was willing to predict the end of the lockout. But Sheridan wanted the glory that would come with being “that guy,” but he now appears unwilling to accept that his error impacts his credibility.

  4. Andrew says

    Hate to side with the owners, but the system needs fixing!

    I watched the Knicks pay Eddy Curry millions of dollars for eating sandwiches and not playing basketball. If any employee of any company does not do their job for years, they should be fired… Not protected. Especially if you aren’t allowed to replace them (salary cap).

    Yes, people will say, “Why did the owners give him this money.. it is their fault!” True to a degree. But you cannot estimate how far a players motivation will decrease once they sign a massive 5-6 year deal. I hate when sportscasters say a player will have a big year because he is in a “contract year”. Shouldn’t they strive to be their best all the time?

    Also, injuries are part of the game. Minor, cronic injuries are even worse than career ending ones! Grant Hill is a great guy. Brandon Roy is a great guy. They both have/had injuries that prevented them from being franchise guys, even though they were getting franchise money. The teams are on the hook for year, and cannot replace these players due to salary cap restrictions. At least with a career ending injury, you can go out and sign another star with added cap room.

    Yes, owners make awful decisions on contracts. Still, there is a limited supple of stars/quality players available every year. Joe Johnson is clearly not worth his contract, even though he is a solid player. They had to offer the max to keep him. If they don’t sign him, the team takes a step backwards on the court, and fans are up in arms saying management doesn’t care or spend. Rudy Gay gets a monster max deal, just because if a small market like Memphis doesn’t give it to him, he will bolt for a bigger market. They had to pay or lose him for nothing.

    Also, franchises are held hostage by their stars in contract years. They either have to roll the dice and hope they sign (Lebron) or trade them for pennies on the dollar just to be safe (D. Williams). Lebron leaving Cleveland made them into a lottery team over night! But if the GM traded him first, the fans would be outraged, without Lebron saying he was leaving (which he wouldn’t).

    This season, the D. Howard drama would be totally out of control all season without changes. Orlando would stink just because of this. On top of that, they made tons of panic trades to try to make him happy. Is this management’s fault? They had to try something or their franchise player would just walk, their fans would be pissed, and they would be a lottery team again. Now their problems are even worse AND he will leave. Now the only option is to trade him for pennies on the dollar to a team of HIS choosing (or he won’t sign an extension).

    Bottom line is, changes are needed. What is wrong wit ha 4 year max contract??? If a player keeps himself in shape, tries hard, and helps his team win, he will get another one. If he bags it, sulks, and hurts his team, he won’t. And if a player gets an injury that takes him from an All-Star to solid role player, the team won’t be crushed long term. Also, end the sign and trade BS.

    • Gloria says

      Good points. I agree that there should be some provisions in player contracts that would allow for a reduction in guaranteed salary in the event that a player is injured or loses motivation and stops performing. However, let’s not forget that the player would hypothetically be injured while working for his employer(the league) and shouldn’t then be punished by a total loss of contract.

      As far as Eddy curry- agreed, he was a jerk that milked NY out of millions. But let’s be serious, up until the point that he signed that contract what had he legitimately done to show he deserved it and would be reliable for the team? Not much. Blame management for having so much faith in him.

    • illyb says

      I agree guaranteed contracts need to be 4 years max and a harder cap by changing up some of the exceptions MLE(lower salary/years), phase out the Bi-Annual, and have some form a progressive luxury tax.

      I don’t really follow you with the Joe Johnson example. If other teams value him at a higher price than what you think he is worth, well that is tough. Offer him a slightly smaller contract 15-18 mill per year and leak it if you are worried about public opinion. I don’t understand how that is a system issue other than the fact the system dictates the upper limits.

      • Andrew says

        For the Joe Johnson example, I meant that Atlanta had to overpay, or lose him for nothing. If they lost him for nothing, their team would be much worse and could not compete. There are only 20 legit stars in this league, none of them chomping at the bit to come to Atlanta. In this system, any true star automatically gets offered a max deal. You have to decide who your franchise guy is. Since there aren’t 30 franchise guys in the whole league, you have to get the closest thing to one available. Johnson was their only choice. Who else could they get at the time? The only team that won the championship without a franchise guy in recent memory is Detriot (and Billups/Hamilton/Wallace were all above average… and Big Ben was a defensive POY)

        Losing him would probably make them a non playoff team. Even though the contract is ridiculously bad, the alternatives weren’t there. The other option was just to rebuild, or clear cap space for a pipe dream signing that might not happen. To get a franchise guy via the draft, you usually need a top 3 pick. To get that you need to be very lucky or very bad.

        If you were Atlanta’s GM, what would you have done? They were in danger of being that team that is just below .500, getting the 13th pick (a non game changer), and staying that way for years. Im sure the fans would have been thrilled.

        • illyb says

          The way I understand it; it is a supply and demand problem. There aren’t enough superstars that ‘earn’ a max salary, Joe meant enough to the team so they offered him max to avoid lean years without him.

          If I put on my fictitious NBA GM shoes would have offered Joe a higher salary than Lebron or Wade and said we are trying to build a championship contender which goes beyond your salary Joe. What system change would be proposed to basically force Johnson to sign a lower contract than he could have gotten from another team?

          • Andrew says

            I agree 100% with what you are saying. It is a supply and demand problem, and one that will never go away. My point is that if a contract is only 3-4 years, a franchise isn’t crippled for a decade over an instance where they need to overpay. There is a whole trickle down effect from a long bloated contract. A team might have a young, cheap potential star on a rookie deal. If that player doesn’t believe their team will be competitive for years, due to a large cap killing contract, they might not resign. Players want to chase championships earlier than ever. If that same player knows their team will be capped out for 1-2 years, instead of 3-4, that is a big difference in terms of improving the team.

  5. Gloria says

    What a shame. The owners are railroading the players into the ground. What’s even more astonishing is that the public seems to be blaming the players for the owner’s mismanagement of their teams. Small market teams decide to pay crap players 100 million for 5 or 6 years and then complain that they are not competative and are losing money.

    If NBA fans are seriously going to blame players for the lockout and we don’t recognize the reasonable concessions that players have already made then perhaps we don’t actually deserve to enjoy the game.

    The 2 sides were so close, I really thought we would get some good news yesterday. Thank you for your work Chris.

    • Preston says

      The players always get blamed Gloria. The level of ignorance when it comes to financial matters is staggering in this country. There is more than a little bit of racism mixed in as well when it comes to the NBA …

  6. says

    Who cares who is to blame? Does any fan actually feel engaged in any way with labor talks to “take sides”? There’s no basketball – that’s all that matters to most people.

  7. tms says

    Chris, I always look forward to your writing. Your optimism was needed by all. I am still siding with the owners on this one…not neccessarily the big market teams, the small market teams such as the grizzlies, bucks, etc. These are the teams who struggle to keep a team competitive let alone a chance to win a championship.

    The players are being foolish, they have now lost $180 million. The 50/50 split will look better and better as the games get missed.

    We are also being shorted games from some the greatest players ever, Kobe, Lebron, etc.

    How many Shawn Kemps will come back after the lockout?

    Sad very sad indeed.

  8. illyb says

    I guess a threat is only as good as you are perceived to go through with it. By canceling 2 weeks, the canceling of the season is a much more believable threat. Wonder if you start hearing mumbles of decertification again.

  9. Justin says


    I have to wonder if this stupidity on your part is what got you jettisoned from ESPN. Wow are you a bad reporter.

    Not too late to try your hand as a garbage man.

    • Gloria says

      You are an idiot. Chris Sheridan is one of the few reporters who have been willing to keep up with all of this petty nba labor crap. For true fans of the nba this website is wonderful. If Sheridan is to be judged for stupidity it should only be due to the fact that he allows dummies like you to read and comment on his work for free.

      • Wes says

        For every one of Sheridan’s good points, like his diligent reporting on this crazy labor situation, he has an offsetting negative point. Take for instance his overwhelmingly biased coverage of the Knicks. It’s clear Chris is a Knicks fan and that’s fine. However his slanted opinions on Knicks related news and his terrible yellow journalism on Knicks opponents leaves much to be desired.

        I give Chris the benefit of the doubt every now and again. Case in point, his coverage of the labor struggle. But then he often goes off and makes silly biased one sided reports on the Knicks that turn me back into a detractor.

        Point is everyone has a right to their opinion cause they are just that. Opinions..

  10. Somervillain says

    Your poll should reflect that both parties are to blame. I chose owners between the two, but I would certainly have preferred to chose both.

  11. Discontented says

    I hope they make this worthwhile and more closely simulate the NFL. Create a level playing field for all teams, eliminate player control that has been manipulated by the likes of Wade, James, Bosh and Melo, and eliminate the big-time-wrestling like officiating. Fix these things and the NBA will attract sports fans in addition to it’s current fan base of basketball junkies. I don’t care how long it takes.

    • Paulpressey25 says


      I realize a lot of you national writers see nothing wrong with the current system, hence you are perplexed as to why the owners wouldn’t cave.

      But of all the major sports leagues, the NBA is the least competitive. Partly because the stars have a major impact on the game. But also because the system is set up to let teams with stars keep accumulating additional talent, especially the big and attractive markets like LA and Miami.

      At the end of the day, these “system changes” are critical. Give me a system that prevents a team like the Celtics from retaining their big four and forces them to jettison a Rondo or Allen. Or a system that forces the Lakers to jettison either Bynum or Odom. Or makes the Heat understand that if they do sign the big three, they won’t have any room for other players. A harder cap will spread the talent around and make for a stronger league although I understand the fear some have in making changes to their current gravy train.

      Also give me a system with only 3/4 year contracts so a team doesn’t get stuck for half a decade with Eddy Curry.

      The NFL has THRIVED under this type of system. Hockey is now doing the same. I applaud the owners and Stern for holding out for meaningful system changes. I love the NBA. But I can wait as long as this takes to get it right.

      • Evan says

        He sees nothing wrong withe the system because Sheridan is a sychophant for the pathetic NY Knicks, the lying cheating team that still always loses in the end.

  12. Gregel says

    Y’know, I have to say, decertifying the union and taking the league to court right away might have been the better move for the players instead of this long drawn out disaster.

  13. Changot says

    Thanks Chris for your optimism behind this travesty of events. I’m still hoping that the lockout will end soon. Thanks for all your great inside scoop about the lockout and please keep us informed. This is one site I will surely follow in the upcoming years! Thanks again from the Philippines!

  14. ignarus says

    What can we say? It seems Stern was running the long con — never wanted to make a deal with the union and kept stringing us all along to look good for the NLRB.

    Now he can put as bad an offer as he wants on the table and pretend he’s trying to recoup the losses brought on by the lockout.

    This is what he wanted 2 years ago and now he doesn’t have to make any more silly gestures of “negotiation.”

    Great odds that we lose the season unless the players abandon all notions of self-respect.

    • ignarus says

      For what it’s worth, i appreciate the optimism if only for the purpose of pointing out how this whole thing *should* have worked out if Stern ever had any interest in reaching an agreement.

  15. J-rod says

    “Can’t win em all Chris” is loaded. You didn’t lose Chris. You were right. I believe your optimism was instinctual and spot on. You just can’t account for crazy. There should have been a deal. There wasn’t. And now the fans pay the price. Just don’t become jaded like us, stay on the grind and keep us informed.

  16. Ahmad says

    I just wanted to say thank you Chris for all your optimism throughout this thing. Yes it is sickening to think how reason and common sense did not prevail to end the lockout but I still remain hopeful that the lockout will end soon and that when it does I’ll hear it here first

  17. mookie says

    Can’t win em all Chris, yes it’s stupid what they are doing, but they’ve been planning this all along, both sides saving up pennies for a stalemate. Now basketball fans suffer, what a shame.


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