NEW YORK — I was supposed to go to a Converse event late last week, but the lockout interceded when the union called a media briefing at its headquarters in Harlem and I had to choose news over shoes.
I told Mandy Gutmann (who left her post as a Knicks media relations staff for the greener pastures of Converse) that I would find a way to make up for my absence, and there it is. (I saw more people wearing Chuck Taylors in Lithuania in September, at Eurobasket, than I can possibly count. One of them was Arvydas Sabonis, who was wearing low-cut Chucks with no socks as he sat with the president of Lithuania in a luxury box.)
As for the NBA lockout, here is where we stand: The union is having conference call today and a meeting of its player reps tomorrow in Harlem, after which they will presumably ask the league or mediator George Cohen for another sitdown with the owners before the close of business on Wednesday — the deadline NBA commissioner David Stern has set for accepting the offer that is on the table. If the offer is rejected, the owners will revert to their previous offer of 47 percent of revenues and a flex cap.
The union isn’t happy about the ultimatum, but the players’ hands are somewhat tied. The only trick play they have in their arsenal is being driven by forces outside of the union, with agents attempting to secure signatures from 130 players to initiate an involuntary decertification of the union.
So we’ve got a little more than 48 and a little less than 72 hours to see how things play out.
Let’s have a look around the Web or the latest lockout interpretations, shall we?
Ian Thomsen, SI.com: “The stance of the union can be changed if a majority of players is willing to force that change. This much needs to be understood: Stern probably isn’t bluffing when he says the offer to players will plummet after Wednesday. Stern has been seeking a deal to save the season ever since the negotiations began. The union has taken note of his willingness to seek compromise during the small-group meetings, with him and deputy commissioner Adam Silver sitting across from the union’s executive director Billy Hunter, president Derek Fisher and economist Kevin Murphy. They have made consistent progress in those low-key talks, only to see that progress reversed when the larger group of owners (and players) brought its diversity of needs into the negotiations. … The larger markets will always have an advantage in contending for championships regardless of any system that may arrive from these negotiations. Think about it: If the best players are suddenly prohibited from fishing for extra salary from the bigger markets, and they realize their NBA paycheck is limited no matter where they choose to play, then guess where they’re going to go? They’re going to seek employment with large-market franchises like the Knicks, the Lakers, the Bulls or the Mavericks, because those markets will offer superior earning opportunities off the court. The goal of preventing the best players from swarming to the biggest cities is bound to backfire on the less-rich teams. The smaller-market franchises may become profitable across the board, but will that make them more attractive to the best players? … I don’t believe a majority of the players can pull this off. They may want to play, in order to rescue this season and their incomes and avoid the long-term, self-destructive harm to the NBA that will certainly follow a canceled season. But they aren’t the leaders of their teams or their league, and they have been headed off by the bloc of decertifiers. My best guess is that the players will refuse the proposal offered by Stern. On Thursday, the owners will reduce their offer, making it more difficult than ever for the players to reach a deal. The abject failure of the two parties to find unity among themselves — for if they can’t agree among themselves, then how can they ever create enough room to compromise with the opposition — will lead to a greater push to decertify, resulting in murkiness and uncertainty amid one probable outcome. More likely than not, there will be no NBA season in 2011-12.
Brian T. Smith of the Salt Lake City Tribune: “You would have to have been a real, real, real optimist to think that both sides were going to move enough at this point to get a deal done in a couple of days,” Jazz guard Raja Bell told The Salt Lake Tribune. He added: “I’ve [said] from the beginning that I really felt that was going to be the eventuality — it was going to be take it or leave it. And that’s OK. But that’s not negotiating in good faith. That’s just giving someone an ultimatum. And we kind of felt like that was going to be their stance the whole time.”
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, via Twitter: “For those baffled why there’s no deal: Guess how many sign-and-trades were executed by tax payers during previous CBA? No, really, guess. … Your answer, from union source: FIVE sign-and-trade deals were done by tax-paying teams during previous six-year CBA. … This is something season could be canceled over, folks. FIVE sign-and-trades in six years. And wait until you hear what they were … Three in ’05-’06: Knicks-Eddy Curry; Memphis-Marko Jaric; Lakers-Kwame Brown and Laron Profit. Destroyers of competitive balance, all. … Two in ’09-’10: Suns-Hedo Turkoglu (basketball-driven deal); Mavs-Shawn Marion. … So one could argue, the season could be canceled over an issue that doesn’t matter that much to either side. … Also, who couldn’t love the irony that of the five sign-and-trades by tax-payers during previous CBA, two were done by Sarver and Heisley?
Steve Bulpett, Boston Herald: “Somewhere along the way, the bait and switch was pulled. To wit: We came to Manhattan to cover a basketball labor negotiation, and a session of Congress broke out. The NBA: Where Washington happens. For those still paying attention to the details here — those who’ve resisted the “wake me when it’s over” siren song — the latest break in the NBA’s collective bargaining talks might seem particularly perplexing. The players got 57 percent of defined revenues in the last CBA and had been trying to squeeze out 52.5 percent this time. But on Saturday, the players took what they believed would be a giant step toward peace, harmony and mid-winter trips to Minneapolis by coming down to 51 percent. They even stated that funds from the last percentage point would be dedicated to retired player programs, also known as “CSI: Where the Hell Did All the Money I Made Go?” The NBA countered with a band that would give the players as little as 49 percent and as much as 51 percent, though union attorney Jeffrey Kessler later cited fuzzy math and called the higher number “a fraud.” The league said its offer is good until the close of business on Wednesday, at which time if it is not accepted the NBA will revert to an offer of 47 percent and a highly restrictive flex cap. In other words, take a deal you don’t like or take a long vacation. … The NBA and Players Association have essentially drawn lines in the sand here. And while the numbers would appear to be close, they may not, in fact, be on the same beach. That’s because of the Washington Effect. While commissioner David Stern and union president Derek Fisher may have their personal opinions as to what constitutes a fair and equitable arrangement, they are not speaking for themselves. Like D.C. party leaders, they negotiate with the Damoclean sword of ‘Can I get the votes for this?’ hanging over their heads. And as in Congress, they are being tugged toward the strong-minded edges.
Bill Rhoden of The New York Times: “Shame on the league for not pushing for true partnership, but shame on the players for not insisting that equity in the league become a nonnegotiable plank in the labor talks. Instead, the currently stalled negotiations have involved the same wage-based scuffles between employer and employees: we give you a piece of the pie, and we’ll fight over the size of the slice every few years. … The N.B.A. and the players are engaged in another season-threatening battle over the distribution of what has become about $4 billion a year in revenue. This is not what a partnership looks like. If the N.B.A. and the players were actually partners, with players having an ownership stake in the league, we might be watching basketball instead of owners against players, owners against owners and players against players. Shortly after the N.F.L. and its players ended their feud earlier this year, DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the players association, said he had made an equity proposal to owners. “One of the proposals we had was, ‘O.K., if you want money back, fine; just give us a share of the National Football League,’ ” he told a group of black lawyers in Baltimore in August. The proposal went nowhere, but Smith said that equity-based relationships could be “one of the more creative models going forward in sports.” This new model would involve a drastic change of thinking by players and owners. For all of the talk about player-owner partnerships and owners’ platitudes about the importance of the players, the one thing owners will never easily give up is something they cherish: total ownership.”
Chris Broussard of ESPN.com., via Twitter: “Interesting: sources from each side told me players & owners only spent “about 15 minutes” together during Saturday’s 8 1/2 hour meeting. … Federal Mediator George Cohen shuttled back & forth between the two rooms before bringing them together at the end for owners proposal.”
Howard Beck of the New York Times: “A movement to decertify the union, which would shift the battle to the courts and probably imperil the season, is proceeding, although its strength remains unclear. ESPN.com reported Sunday that organizers believe they can get at least 130 signatures — enough to force a decertification vote — by Tuesday. However, two prominent agents with large client lists said that no signature drive had begun. They expressed skepticism that anything could be done in the next few days. If 30 percent of the union signs a petition, it is up to the National Labor Relations Board to approve a vote by the full membership. That could take up to 45 days — and during that time the union could resume negotiations with the N.B.A., but with the threat of decertification as added leverage. … A contract squeeze is already under way. A record 160 players were on minimum contracts last season, according to one agency’s accounting. An additional 107 players were on rookie contracts, and 63 were on midlevel exception deals. That means that only 90 to 100 players were on negotiated contracts that were not bound by a salary slot. If the midlevel exception is curtailed as the N.B.A. proposes, that number would surely continue to drop, and the number of players on minimum salaries would increase. No bargaining sessions are expected before the N.B.A.’s deadline, which Stern described as the close of business Wednesday. The union regards the deadline as artificial and believes the N.B.A. will return to the table.