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.”
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.”