Lockout Update: Beverly Hills edition

By Chris Sheridan

What should have been a day for locked-out NBA players to display unity and strength turned into something quite different as reporters spoke to JaVale McGee of the Washington Wizards near the valet stand at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. some two hours into a three-hour meeting of union leaders and about 30 players.

From Greg Beacham of the Associated Press: “There’s definitely some guys in there saying that they’re ready to fold, but … the majority of guys are willing to stand strong,” McGee said. In a tweet, McGee later denied he said the words recorded by more than a dozen reporters. Fisher and the players who didn’t leave early laughed off the brouhaha. “The person that spent the least amount of time in the room has no ability to make that statement,” Fisher said.

But while McGee’s statement and Beacham’s dispatch made every major Web site’s headlines list, there is a danger in thinking that one statement made by one player will carry an inordinate amount of weight going forward. Yes, McGee’s statement will sear itself into the public’s consciousness to a certain degree, but NBA owners already knew that there are hawks and doves among the players — just as there are among the owners.

And by the time the sides meet together again Tuesday in NewYork with a federal mediator, the focus will be back on the leadership from both sides rather than a slip of the tongue from a bit player in this epic production.

And with that, let’s have a look around the Web for some insight from a few of the scribes who chronicled McGee Day on the Left Coast:

Sam Amick, SI.com: “Stern and the owners have warned that the offers only get worse when games are lost, and that’s when all hope of having a season is likely gone, but the players simply aren’t buying it. “As they want to inflict these self-inflicted wounds, the gash is only going to get bigger, franchise values are going to decimate,” (Maurice) Evans said. “Best-case scenario — when we ran the numbers — 2023 is when they would recover [financially] and get back to where we are with BRI (basketball-related income) if we lost an entire season. So continuing to threaten that it’s a season and that it’s two years is only going to further damage your business. Again, that’s not even speaking for individual owners and what they stand to lose. Not every owner would be able to, again, come out of this lockout. There would be some contraction, potentially, if they want to lock us out for a year or longer.”

Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles: “”And that’s the best-case projection,” Evans said. “What about the worst case? Some teams that don’t recover until 2030 or 2040. Which owners, as individuals, can afford to take those hits?” Whether this will end up as ineffectual bluster remains to be seen. The owners still hold most of the leverage in this fight. Only a dramatic ruling in the courts or internal dissent amongst the owners can make a dramatic difference at this point. The owners can probably hold out a little longer too, having just collected season-ticket revenue over the summer and television and radio contract money. (However many games they end up missing, that money will be paid back to the networks after the season, not now.) But after months of the players simply saying they were united and prepared to weather this storm, it was interesting to see them finally flip the script and suggest the owners could have a harder time bearing the damages done by a protracted lockout. “The damages that will be suffered will be heavy and devastating on both sides,” Evans said. “And frankly speaking, more devastating on their side.”

Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times, quoting Derek Fisher on Stern’s statement that if there is no agreement by Tuesday, there likely won’t be any NBA basketball played on Christmas: “That’s an arbitrary deadline to throw out on Commissioner Stern’s part,” Fisher said. “We don’t see it that way. Obviously he’s entitled to make a statement, but it seems very arbitrary and with no real purpose other than to try to sway players’ sentiment.” It creates an extremely wide gulf, and one I don’t know will be closed by Tuesday, which makes his statement more arbitrary,” Fisher said later before a small gathering of reporters. “If the gulf is that wide, to make a statement that we have to make it all figured out by Tuesday is not the best way to say it.”
Eric Freeman of Yahoo Sports’ Ball Don’t Lie: The commissioner stopped short of calling Hunter a liar but did say he was responsible for perpetuating what Stern feels is an “inaccurate” representation of the negotiations and the proposals made by the league’s owners. “I think it’s fair to say that [Hunter’s] depiction of our motives, our offers, the state of the negotiations is inaccurate.” Those responses are condescending, self-serving, one-sided, and generally full of the sort of “we-will-crush-you” self-satisfaction that has defined the league’s approach to the lockout. Apart from the fact that it’s ridiculous to suggest Stern is only doing interviews because the union has willfully lied — because, you know, Stern effectively gives an interview every time he makes a public appearance — it’s insulting for him to suggest that the rank-and-file members of the players’ union are too stupid or ignorant to know that their interests aren’t being protected. Even if that were true, it’s awful to condescend so egregiously. Stern’s a smart man, but these attempts to sway the public to his side are almost too transparent to work. To be sure, casual fans may not understand the mechanics of the lockout as well as others. But his interview with (Dan) Patrick — along with one on Chris “Mad Dog” Russo’s satellite radio show on Friday– proves that Stern thinks very little of his league’s fans and observers. We all want the NBA to play games as soon as possible, but that doesn’t mean we should accept any means towards that end. Stern is playing everyone for fools right now in one of the most insulting ways possible. It’s on all of us to reject that treatment.”

More from SI.com’s Amick: Union president and Lakers guard Derek Fisher had been waxing poetic again in the press conference, repeating the same old mantras to the attending media in a somewhat-lifeless room. Then (Billy) Hunter, somewhat abruptly, went for his holster and grabbed the microphone that might as well have been a Smith & Wesson. “Well I think it can only get worse for both of us,” Hunter said in response to a question about the owners’ future offers worsening over time because of the losses. “If somebody is pointing a gun at my head, I’m going to point one back at him. That door doesn’t swing one way. It’s not just the players that are going to suffer if there are games lost. What David (Stern) has failed to reveal to you is the amount of economic damage they’re going to suffer as a consequence. He points out the players will lose $170 million every two weeks. The owners will lose the same … amount, coupled with any damage that their franchises sustained as a consequence. The pain is mutual.” As Hunter left his hotel room, there was far more pride on his face than pain. He zipped his bag and grabbed his latest book, “The Master Game,” a story of power in our world’s history and what ideals and influences led us to where we are. And why not, considering he’s in a power struggle of his own? “It’s a great book,” Hunter said. “It’s about the folks who have been running the world for the last 2,000 years. It’s not fiction. I don’t read fiction. I only read stuff I can learn something from.” Then in an all-too-perfect moment, the suit-wearing Hunter grabbed a pair of brown cowboy boots he had brought along for this ride and headed for the doors. Guns blazing and walkin’ boots in hand, he swears he’s ready for this fight.”



  1. S. Sebastian says

    Sometimes perspective is everything.

    The players may be headed for a nightmare scenario because they have convinced themselves that this is about standing firm and not caving. They also seemed to have convinced themselves that because some owners don’t want to cancel the season, the season won’t be cancelled.

    This is 100% about business.

    I’m sure D Wade believes Micky Arison wants a season and Kobe believes the Buss family wants a season and Amare believes James Dolan wants a season. However, all of those owners know that the other teams must be profitable in order for their teams to thrive long-term. Moreover, the harder it is for small market teams to sell their product and turn a profit, the more those teams will come after Dolan, Buss’ and Arison’s money. No dice fellas. These owners will ultimately support canceling the season, along with the others because it is in their best long-term interest to do so.

    The players also seem to view the owners as individuals. This could be a fatal mistake. The owners are corporations. The league’s financial losses require restructuring. That’s what this is about. During a long lockout, some teams will likely declare bankruptcy. The owners will walk away and still be billionaires because none of their other assets will be affected. The league will contract meaning fewer jobs for players.

    The union says they’ve done projections that say the owners will not recover from a cancelled season until 2023. Wrong perspective again and you killed your future expensive, time-wasting lawsuits. The owners don’t have to recover to the same level. They simply have to restructure their costs. Guess what players? That means you. That means your BRI share after an extended lockout will be much much lower than 53% or 50% because the owners will be operating in an industry with lowered revenues and the same overhead and sunk costs (investments).

    In the end, believing standing firm will get the owners to cave will result in players missing a year of pay, a year of play and when they come back they will make substantially less money for the rest of their careers. And oh yeah, don’t forget the hard cap.

    It’s not personal. It’s business.

    • geraldmcgrew says

      But it’s all a big F’n lie! The owners are not really losing money now and have plenty to lose if season(s) are wiped out – not just basketball revenues but ancillary businesses, tax loopholes, sweetheart realestate deals, expansion franchise fees, ie., ASSETS (terminology borrowed from http://feltbot.com/2011/10/02/david-sterns-big-lie/#comment-4515 ). The players should hold out. I’m not saying they will, but they should. Other unions have made greater sacrifices in the past on the way to victory. And, just as a reminder, in The Godfather BOOK, Michael Corleone responds to the “It’s not personal, it’s just business” concept by explaining that that’s a load of crap – it’s all very, very personal.

      • S. Sebastian says

        If the owners have all that money to lose as you suggest, it makes no sense that they are canceling games. That didn’t get to be Billionaires by closing down profitable businesses. By the way, Michael Corleone is a fictional character. In this case, real people lose real money.

        • geraldmcgrew says

          You’re right, it makes no sense. It also makes no sense that the lords of finance crippled this country’s economy. Lots of things billionaires have done overt the years and continue to do make no sense, except from their own (your?) warped perspective.
          By the way, I know Corleone is a fictional character. I was responding to your quotation from the fictional epic people seem to quote as gospel. If you didn’t mean to do that, fine.

          • S. Sebastian says

            If you understand basic math. You understand the problem from the players perspective.

            A cancelled season is really bad for the players.

            They lose $2 Billion. The only way it makes sense for them to hold out and forgo $2 Billion is to get a better deal which will pay them back the lost $2Billion plus interest and an acceptable rate of return on what will then be a $2 Billion investment in future earnings.

            Let’s assume an acceptable rate of return is 5% annually. We’ll forget about interest and the time value of money to keep it simple.

            Over a ten year deal the players will need $100 million more per year than they would have gotten today to earn a 5% annual return on their $2 Billion investment.

            And they will need $200 million per year for ten years to pay back the $2 Billion they gave up by missing the season.

            $100 + $200 = $300

            That’s $300 million more per year the players will have to gain in a post-cancelled season deal in order to make holding out worthwhile.

            If the league revenue number stays where it was in 2010, about $4 Billion that means the players share of BRI will have to go up 7.5% from 57% to 64.5%. (300 million/4 billion = 7.5%)

            Tell me you think the players will get that deal a year from now.

            Or, if the players want to stick with 53% BRI, the post cancelled season league revenue will have to increase by $566 million in order to result in a plus $300 million per year outcome for the players.

            Tell me you think the league revenue will go up after a cancelled season.

            It’s not worth it to the players to let the season get cancelled if they are able to get BRI anywhere near 50% with guaranteed contracts and no roll backs. Why, simple basic math that’s why.

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