HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The frayed emotions and exhausted looks on the faces of basketball lovers worldwide should be impossible to hide this morning.
Now that the doomsday fears have been realized, and the first two weeks of the NBA’s regular season have been canceled, we’re all left with the uneasy feeling of what faces the chopping block next as the lockout digs deeper into the fall.
We can dispense with all of the pleasantries now and get down to brass tacks. Forget about when the season starts. Most fans are wondering this morning if there will be a season. The unthinkable a few weeks ago has become our new reality …
Something To Salvage?
Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated: Can the season be saved? The answer is yes, so long as the NBA owners are willing to negotiate into January, as they did to resolve their previous lockout in 1999.
Understand that two weeks of NBA games have been wiped away, and that more cancellations are to come. Nothing important is likely to change over the next two weeks that will enable basketball to be played in late November or early December.
On and on it will go, with both sides looking back to the salvation of the ’99 lockout. That resolution a dozen years ago may have influenced these extended talks that failed Monday night in New York. As much anxiety as both sides were feeling to reach an agreement this week, they weren’t experiencing the ultimate pressure that will be felt later this winter when the entire season is at risk. “The problem,” said a former league official who was involved in the negotiations that shortened the 1998-99 season to 50 games, “is that people tend to look at early January as the drop-dead date.”
He was worrying that the absolute final offer from either side may not emerge for another 12 weeks. Not until the final days of this calendar year will the owners fully understand the consequences of losing a full season during a recession, while more than 400 players find themselves confronted with the likelihood of a full year without an NBA paycheck.
In many ways these entire negotiations have gone according to form. It is not the formula anyone would have desired, but it has been entirely predictable. The owners lock out the players July 1, with little negotiating done for most of July and August, followed by sudden urgency to make a deal that can save the full season.
Lost Games Part Of The Plan?
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: On the sidewalk out on 63rd Street, sirens wailing and knucklehead cameramen jostling for position and cursing each other, here was Billy Hunter living in his own movie. Regular-season games lost on his watch, and on David Stern‘s, just as they’d discussed two years ago.
“It goes back to a comment that David said to me several years ago, when he said this is what my owners have to have,” Hunter said Monday night, after the first two weeks of the 2011-12 NBA regular season were canceled. “And I said, ‘Well, the only way you’re going to get that is, you prepare to lock us out for a year or two.’ And he’s indicated to me that they’re willing to do it. So my belief and contention is that everything that he’s done has demonstrated that he’s following that script.”
The script, written in red ink because it all came back to the so-called “blood issue” of hard salary-cap concepts Monday night, will be one neither side wants to remember. And it was amazing to watch how everyone snapped back so violently to two-year-old rhetoric, fell so easily into old habits. The hours upon hours, the days upon days of meetings, negotiations, concepts, ideas, blah, blah, blah … it all went up in smoke on 63rd Street Monday — the jackhammers rattling and sirens wailing and knucklehead cameramen finally squaring off and fighting in the street.
“I’m not surprised, because as I’ve indicated to you, based upon representations that were made to me earlier in discussions that David and I had, I’m convinced that this was just all part of the plan,” Hunter said.
Just like all the old rhetoric came back, so did the old deal points — the massive changes owners formally presented in January 2010 with their initial proposal to the players. Stunningly, it was not the biggest issue dividing the two sides — the split of revenues — but the details. The devil is always in the details.
Winning Fans Back Won’t Be Easy
David Steele of the Sporting News: What Stern did for two decades to elevate the NBA, becoming the most progressive and visionary commissioner of his day, can’t be taken away from him. But now he’s on the record as overseeing two significant labor stoppages during his tenure, and just 13 years apart. Bud Selig and Gary Bettmann can’t even claim that, and to suggest that either belongs in the same conversation with Stern as leader of a league is to get laughed out of the room.
Whatever the owners get out of this – this bigger cut of basketball-related income (BRI), this hard cap, all these other givebacks they’re demanding from the players after the sport had moved the needle so much the last few years – is it going to be worth the steep, uphill climb they’ll have to make to regain the fan base’s love?
They have more evidence than they could ever want from how the public is reacting to their absence. While there are plenty of passionate fans enraged about their sport being taken from them for no logical reason, that passion is a fraction of the insanity that surrounded the prospect of NFL games being cancelled this past summer.
Yes, that’s another piece of history the NBA is willfully ignoring. This commissioner, these owners, they must have some stupendous ideas for new revenue streams cooking, enough to overcome the ferocious public-relations hit, the distrust of their loyal supporters and the abandonment of the fringe fan.
All of which–again, if history repeats itself–will last a lot longer than this one truncated season. To paraphrase a famous saying, toy with me once, shame on you, and so on.
Once they get whatever terms they believe will guarantee them a profit despite their own ineptitude at running their franchises, what plan do the owners have to win back the supporters they will lose, short-term and long-term? The fans are not going to come back grinning, dancing and arms open wide, as they did with the NFL. They’re going to demand a pound of flesh. They’re going to make the NBA pay penance.
This Is Just The First Blow
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated: With both sides retreating to neutral corners — no new negotiating sessions have been scheduled and neither Stern nor Fisher could say when the two sides will talk again — the question becomes: What’s next? Stern hinted that the league will likely cancel the next two weeks of the season two weeks from now. He also suggested that the revenues lost as a result of the lockout bleeding into the regular season, revenues that are expected to number in the hundreds of millions, will be factored into the next proposal.
The union believes the league will wait for the players to break, that the loss of a paycheck or two will make the players willing to accept the deal the owners have on the table. Hunter said that would be a mistake and multiple players texted SI.com that, after learning details of the owners’ proposal, they were resolved not to agree to it.
“They want us to say we can’t miss checks and just take the deal,” texted one All-Star player. “It won’t happen. We are standing firm. Everybody thinks the players are being greedy, but when it’s all said and done, we are giving up a lot.”
How quickly these system issues are resolved will likely determine when the league gets back to work. Stern has frequently said that if the system issues can be agreed to, the economic ones — specifically the BRI — are close enough that a deal can be made. On Monday, Kessler suggested the same. Getting the system issues settled, however, is looking like a tall task.
“The NBA is more dug in than before,” Hunter said. “[The owners] are going to have to soften their position and be willing to compromise.”
Chris Sheridan of Sheridanhoops.com: 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, [Derek] 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.
J.A. Adande of ESPN.com: The NBA was counting on you to be a sucker. You’d be a sucker because the league just intentionally damaged its brand and devalued its product by showing its willingness to do without it, secure in the knowledge that fans would still come back once this was over. Or you’re a sucker because you bought the lines the NBA fed you for the better part of two years — that the league needed a hard salary cap and salary rollbacks and other drastic changes to the fundamental structure of the league in order for the business model to be tenable — only to find out that wasn’t actually the case.
That’s the realization that hit me Monday as we awaited word on the last-minute labor negotiations. At this point I was actually rooting against a simplistic end to the lockout. Because to end it without anything more drastic than a lower revenue share for the players would mean the past four months were a complete waste of time. You know those studies that attempt to calculate the cost to businesses from employee time spent following the NCAA tournament? I want one of those done for the time spent analyzing issues and negotiating points that won’t wind up in the new collective bargaining agreement.
I was stunned the owners moved away from a hard cap. Everything I had been told from their side was that it was a mandatory part of a new labor agreement. That didn’t mean they couldn’t mimic the effects of a hard cap through other means, but the fact that the NBA didn’t try to jam the original version down the players’ throats actually made me think a deal was possible in time to save the season.
My mistake. I believed. Lesson No. 1 from this lockout: Don’t believe what’s being offered to you.
You know what else the NBA is asking us to believe? That a new system will automatically eliminate the case of the overpaid player. Why should we believe that when, for the most part, these are the same owners and general managers who continued to overpay players despite all of the cost-containment mechanisms that were already in place.
Some Saw This Coming
Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports: Philadelphia 76ers forward Elton Brand, who entered the league a year after the 1998-99 season was shortened to 50 games by the previous work stoppage, has attended three labor meetings in recent weeks in New York. He didn’t feel optimistic after leaving them.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Brand said. “I was at the meetings and we talked about solidarity and sticking together. It’s what it’s come to. There wasn’t a mass vote, but this is what we agreed on and we’re sticking together.
“We are sticking with the union and what we are doing. I wish we were playing, and I hope we don’t alienate our fans but, at the end of the day, we were locked out. It’s a lockout.”
Sacramento Kings rookie guard Isaiah Thomas has yet to draw his first NBA paycheck, so he doesn’t have nearly as deep a savings account as some of his peers. He’s made money this summer by working in basketball camps and playing in exhibitions during the lockout.
The last pick of this year’s draft, Thomas is in his native Seattle, taking online classes at the University of Washington and working out with his old teammates. He’s also vowed not to cut his hair until the lockout ends. He could go overseas to play if the lockout lasts another month but says he doesn’t regret skipping his senior year at Washington to turn pro.
“The worst thing about it is you really don’t know your next move right now,” Thomas said. “You’re just going off of what you hear. To get the news that the first two weeks are canceled makes it that much worse.”
For now, the players can only hope they won’t lose the entire season.
“We have to gut it out,” [LaMarcus] Aldridge said. “We have to get even closer now, even more united, during these tough times.”