Heisler Column: If this is symbolic, which is Beavis and which is Butthead?

Even if the NBA makes a deal today — as I always thought it would in time to play by Dec. 1 — I’m past congratulating anyone for their part in this farce.

I’m filing this as written before they do a deal, go to war, or whatever.


Now that we know what the lockout is—a symbolic battle, rather than one over dollars, since that has been essentially settled—I have one question for David Stern and his owners and Billy Hunter and his players:

Which of you symbolizes Beavis and which is Butthead?

I’m the last optimist, but my faith in these butt — er, people, is on deathwatch for roughly 72 more hours.

That’s Stern’s Wednesday deadline, by which owners as well as players must choose between a one-month lockout costing $320 million which is soon forgotten … and one that would cost $2 billion and lead to the catastrophic loss of the season.
This is a no-brainer, with differences now laughably minimal — the owners offered a conditional 51%, which the players would accept with easier conditions — unless they’re so full of yourselves, they may drift off like hot-air balloons.

I’m all for letting them have their catastrophe if they want it.

Having persisted in their pathetic complaints long enough to attract attention, the players and owners just demonstrated the difference between their let-us-eat-51 percent-of-the-cake dispute and an actual labor negotiation like a transit workers strike.

We need mass transit.

Missing NBA games is just like having a TV show pre-empted for a week or two.

Transit companies and workers aren’t rich.

NBA owners and players are so rich, they can throw away 8 percent of each side’s take this season (four weeks at 2 percent per) to argue over 2 percent of BRI.

Not to pick on Stern, who’d have made a deal without so many arch-entitled owners, but his personal $1.2 million loss leaves $13.8 million of his reported $15 mill salary.

At the other end of the food chain, the Lakers’ Matt Barnes, a proletarian player if ever there was one, has lost $156,000.

How many of you think you could get by on Matt’s remaining $1.744 million?

Oh, all of you?

In the biggest difference between this and real life, this isn’t about money, which is all but settled, any more.


Stern promised the owners long ago he’d get them 50-50.

Hunter, whose union has already given so deeply of itself–$200 million per year, dropping from 57 percent to 51 percent –doesn’t want to go down as the man who accepted less than the major share for the players, who comprise so much more than that of the value.

In life, principles are great.

In real labor negotiations, which are about business, they’re beside the point.

In this case of puffed-up NBA owners and players, who fought many battles but never over anything as silly, principles just became a pain in the tush, or as we say in Yiddish, tochas.

Of course, it’s their tochas!.

With my vaunted (at least by me) prediction that they’d play by Dec. 1 in danger of going down in flames, what can I say but… oops!

I thought too much of these people.

I thought reason would prevail unless things were really as bad as the NBA claimed, citing $300 million annual losses that required only enough juggling of figures to fool sportswriters.

I figured we’d find that out to see what Stern pushed for in September when push came to shove.

Surprising even me with his peace initiative, Stern dropped structural changes (hard cap, cutting existing salaries) to offer tweaks in the existing system.

Ten days ago, 2 percent apart on the revenue split with Stern trading jokes with Hunter at his press conference and peace at hand, princelings on both sides railed at the compromise.

So much for the 82-game season.

Saturday, after narrowing their differences even further, both sides denounced the other amid reports the zealots were taking over (Portland’s Paul Allen and Charlotte’s Michael Jordan vs. acid-tongued union lawyer Jeffrey Kessler and agents pushing decertification).

Even apart from Jordan’s evolution from hard-line player to hard-line owner with a new set of principles, this was no small irony.

Allen is the biggest luxury taxpayer of all time, having once written a $50 million-plus check.

Actually, if you want to know why they have this fight, it’s because Allen and the Knicks’ Jim Dolan discovered thrift (or their GMs did before getting fired) after bankrolling the NBA with almost $100 million in tax payments annually.

Actually, we don’t know who took over what, as our peerless leader, Chris Sheridan, noted in the hysteria over MJ’s belated entry.

Both sides in these things are always trying to make it look like the lunatics have taken over their asylum.

Of course, they both look like they have a point this time.

There was a reason to rumble in 1998 with super-agent David Falk controlling the union, ready to fight to the death (the NBA’s, not his) against maximum salaries that would unfairly limit his high-end practice.

Maximums were not only necessary to keep the stars from taking all the money as well as containing costs, but reasonable.

Kobe Bryant, a “no” in the 166-3 vote approving the 1999 deal, is now reportedly OK with 50-50.

A fight was inevitable this time, with real competitive-balance issues and hard-pressed owners… even if rich teams’ disproportionate profits were as much their problem.

What wasn’t inevitable was getting to the brink of peace and calling in a B-52 strike on their own position.

George Carlin once joked about middle class drug use: “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you have too much money.”

This lockout is God’s way of telling the NBA it has too much money, chutzpah (Yiddish for, uh, nerve) or both.

On the bright side, a long time away would be good for everyone’s humility, which could use it.

Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops. His columns appear each Monday.


  1. Michael says

    Dumb colum. Neither side is dumb in this. Only the author.

    -The owners know full well if they can get the players to give a minimum of a $3 billion concession over the next CBA, it is totally worth losing a season over. They would be having record profits and their franchise values would skyrocket.

    -The players know full well every single BRI point they give up is a point they will never see again. So that 1 point which equals at least $40 million, yeah multiply that over the next few decades and you can understand why they are so reluctant to concede. It would be a diservice to past and future generations to submit to the owners so easily.

    There is a lot at stake here.


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