HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — In the days since the first two weeks of the NBA regular season ended, there has been no mincing of words from either side.
We are in a red alert situation. The 2011-12 NBA season is on the line every second of every minute of every single day as this lockout continues. NBA commissioner David Stern said as much in various interviews Thursday, making clear that something has to be done sooner (next week Tuesday at the earliest) rather than later …
No Deal Tuesday, No Games Through Christmas?
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: Setting another arbitrary deadline for more lost games, NBA commissioner David Stern said that without an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement by Tuesday, he fears there will be no games on Christmas Day.
“It’s time to make the deal,” Stern said, speaking deliberately and threateningly Wednesday in an interview on New York’s WFAN radio. “If we don’t make it on Tuesday, my gut — this is not in my official capacity of canceling games — but my gut is that we won’t be playing on Christmas Day.”
Tuesday is the day the league and players’ association will meet with federal mediator George Cohen in an attempt to resolve their differences before more games are canceled.
“Deal Tuesday, or we potentially spiral into situations where the worsening offers on both sides make it even harder for the parties to make a deal,” Stern said.
Stern confirmed that negotiating committees for the league and National Basketball Players Association will meet separately with Cohen on Monday and then will convene for a bargaining session under Cohen’s supervision Tuesday. Why the deadline? Stern’s Board of Governors is scheduled to meet in New York Wednesday and Thursday — first for the planning committee to present its revenue sharing plan and then for a full board meeting.
Asked when more games could be imperiled after he canceled the first two weeks on Monday, Stern said, “I don’t have a date here sitting at my desk. But if we don’t have a deal by the time the owners are in, then what’s the purpose of us sitting around staring at each other on the same issues?”
Billy Hunter Answers Pointed Questions
Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports: Q: Do you think both sides can come to an agreement by Tuesday or is it wishful thinking?
Hunter: “It’s not an issue of time. It’s an issue of will. If you are in a room and you want to make a deal and there are three major issues that are holding you up, if you can come to a compromise on those three areas than you have a makings of a deal. It’s not a nature of time. We can go in and do a deal if they want to go in and do a deal. We can do a deal in an hour, two hours if we can agree to the major terms. And after that you got to work on everything else. Everything else will fall in place.”
Q: What has been the most frustrating part of negotiations?
Hunter: “I don’t think [the owners] are negotiating in good faith. That’s what’s frustrating. David Stern told me three years ago – and I keep reiterating that because people keep pulling up their cup on it – that they were going to lock out [the players] in order to get what it was they wanted. And what he’s done is done that. [Stern] said he was going to lock out [the players] and his owners were prepared to lock out to get what they wanted. It’s driven pretty much by the small-market teams. They actually want revenue sharing in the big markets, but the big markets have said, ‘OK we’ll give revenue conditioned upon you getting the deal in place that we think has to be there because we don’t want to go into our pockets as much as we may have to. We think you should get it off the backs of the players.’ So that’s what he’s done. He’s stated an extreme position from the get go and he’s negotiated that way. So here we are.
“We’ve been negotiating for almost three years, and here we are at the 12th hour when all of the sudden they make a slight move. But then on top of that, they then decide that they want a hard cap. So then when you get close to the economics of the number, then they get close to the system. And they know that the system is very important. If we give on the economics, we are not going to give on the system. And so all of the sudden you reach a possible agreement on the economics and now the system becomes a problem. So it’s like a moving target. It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating because the whole intent and purpose and whole strategy has been to break the resolve of the players.
“[Washington Wizards owner] Ted Leonsis – go look at some of his quotes. Leonsis said that David Stern promised them they were going to get a system like the NHL, and the only way they can get that system is to break the players. That’s what they’ve done. There is nothing complex about what is going on. It is as clear as the nose on my face. I keep calling them out on that, but people don’t write about that.”
Request To Dismiss Unfair Labor Practice Lawsuit Denied
Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Locked-out NBA players believe they scored a major victory Wednesday when the National Labor Relations Board denied David Stern’s request to have the union’s charge of an unfair labor practice dismissed, although the players are a long way from seeing this tactic get them back onto the basketball court.
The NBA commissioner went before the NLRB on Wednesday seeking the dismissal, as first reported by the Daily News, but the NLRB decided to continue with the case, which the players union hopes will lead to the league being forced to restart operations and open the season under the previous collective bargaining rules.
“That is what Stern and his owners are worried about,” insisted a union legal source.
Perhaps, but first, the players’ case has several more steps to go, and it’s being viewed by legal experts as a long shot to help them break the 106-day-old lockout.
“This is part of the theater of collective bargaining, and it’s one of the few weapons that the players have to put pressure on the owners during the lockout,” said Jay Krupin, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney with Epstein Becker Green and an expert on the workings of the NLRB. “The probability of an injunction being issued to stop the lockout is remote. But right now, having the NLRB look at its charge is one of the few things the players have going for them.”
In hoping to gain some leverage in its uphill battle against the owners, the union has been trying to get the NLRB to expedite its case. An NLRB source said it will be given “high priority” when it soon goes to its board in Washington, D.C., but would not offer a timetable.
For the players to win and force the NBA to reopen, the NLRB would have to issue a complaint against the owners, ruling that the league did engage in unfair labor practices. Then it would have to convince a federal court that, among other things, the players have been caused irreparable damage during the lockout.
At that point, the only remedy for the NBA would be to file an appeal, which it would have to lose. If all that happens, then the NBA would reopen, with free agency being conducted under the old system, along with the players getting back the old 57-43 split of revenue they enjoyed in the last collective bargaining agreement.
Another Element Added To The Mix …
Michael Wilbon of ESPN.com: When the NFL was out of business, with the season approaching, fans overwhelmingly wanted only one thing: the return of the product. They wanted football, by whatever means necessary and at any cost. The loss of one week of regular-season football would have been received like a national emergency.
Professional basketball has no such cachet, whether the owners and players know it or not. The patrons will miss it, tens of thousands of people in most NBA cities, hundreds of thousands of people in the big markets like Boston, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. But not tens of millions, noteverybody. People aren’t going to clamor for basketball in the same way they do football. But they will trash basketball, especially basketball players. NBA owners are going to spend the next weeks and perhaps months telling you how little pro basketball players are worth; then, once they get a deal, be faced with the task of trying to build ’em back up again for the purpose of public consumption.
And there’s always the complex and even more divisive element of race. Both the NFL and NBA are predominantly black. But the NFL has never been perceived as a “black league” because it has white megastars in players such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and coaches such as Bill Belichick. The NBA, on the other hand, has been perceived exactly as a black league for 30 years, even when it featured the likes of Larry Bird and Bill Walton. A championship team led by a blond, blue-eyed German, Dirk Nowitzki, isn’t the same as having an iconic white American superstar on the level of Bird or Jerry West. Nor is a coach in the mold of Phil Jackson or Pat Riley.
And while every generation moves further away from stereotypes, more quickly in sports than just about any other industry, the fact is that NBA players with their guaranteed contracts and lavish lifestyles are the objects of derision much more often than their helmeted and more anonymous peers in the NFL — who, except for those quarterbacks, make quite a bit less. And besides, people of any race and nationality more closely identify with people who look like them.
Even so, the NBA has always struggled with perception issues; a second work stoppage in 12 years, particularly if it’s another long one, isn’t going to help. And unlike in 1999 — when the country was in a boom cycle during which the prevailing theme to everyday life was that everybody should “get paid” — getting paid now, if it takes a public fight to do it, will seem mostly distasteful.
While owners and players alike surely feel they’re not going to let public sentiment dictate their position, and perhaps rightfully so, it’s hard to imagine that many people have the stomach for the ins and outs of this fight, especially not in the days after President Obama called the economic state of affairs “an emergency.” We’re talking, remember, about “middle class” people who, if they can still afford to, like to attend NBA games and buy stars’ jerseys for their kids. They couldn’t possibly be in the mood for hearing about salary caps and luxury taxes and the unacceptability of “settling for” a 50-50 split.
We Will Learn To Live Without Ya!
Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman: Heck, even baseball is scratching its way into our psyche. We sit on the verge of the ultimate Oklahoma World Series. Cardinals vs. Rangers. Favorite team of most Okie baseball fans over 40 vs. favorite team of most Okie baseball fans under 40.
Hey, I’m a huge NBA fan. Love at first bite. I want the lockout over. But if the owners are determined to push the players to the brink of a canceled season, we’ll adjust. We’ll move on. We’ll find something else to occupy our time.
NBA seasons are long. For ticket-buyers, NBA seasons are a huge financial and time commitment. For the crowd that is Thunder-crazy via television only, still a big time commitment. Eighty-two games spread over 5 1/2 months.
The games are great, the action suspenseful, the talent amazing, the entertainment supreme. The NBA has spent five years in Oklahoma City teaching us we can’t live without the game.
But give us another dark season, and maybe we learn that we can.
The Direct And Indirect Effect Of The Lockout
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Overall, the impact on the city is not expected to be too significant. Despite the lockout, the Rockets still must pay their rent. Though many NBA teams pay a percentage of gate receipts and would not have gate receipts at all during the work stoppage, the Rockets’ lease agreement calls for two payments of $4.25 million a year, one on Aug. 1 and another on Feb. 1. Those payments include $2.6 million as Residual Arena Rent, $100,000 as the Naming Rights Portion, $750,000 as a Maintenance Fund Deposit and $800,000 as a Capital Fund Deposit.
Most players do not begin missing paychecks until Nov. 15 and long have been told by union leaders to prepare for a protracted labor fight.
The Rockets have not had any layoffs, pay cuts or furloughs, but there are an additional 700 security, concessions, custodial and other employees who work during Rockets home games who have had work nights taken away, with many more expected to be lost.
Rockets officials are prohibited by NBA restrictions from commenting during the lockout.
“The indirect effect is more impactful than the direct issue to the city,” said Greg Ortale, the president and CEO of the Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Revenue is lost to those businesses in the immediate vicinity of Toyota Center. Similarly and more importantly, the part-time employees that are working at Toyota Center are being hurt because they do not have that employment. Many of them, that is their second or third job. It is a way for them to complete their income.
“Tipped employees are also vulnerable. A lot of these people, that’s their full-time job. They live or die by the nights they have. They have to pay the same bills we all have to pay. If I’m a restaurant a block or so from the Rockets game, I’m going to … reduce the wait staff, kitchen staff, even my hours of operation. People are getting hurt.”
Players Might As Well Give In Now
Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: The players are right.
But the timing’s all wrong. In this horrific economy, many fans simply think of what they would do if they – like the players – were offered a reduced salary that still would house, feed and clothe a family for decades.
So there’s little sympathy, and there will be less in time from fans robbed of the privilege of putting up their feet after a hard day’s work and watching the players work. Work those fans would love to do.
So the players can’t win.
They certainly can’t win by whining, by pounding the door after Stern sends them to their rooms, by making empty threats. Overseas defections were supposed to create leverage, but only a few mid-level players have gone without opt-outs that would allow them to return when the NBA season starts.
Amar’e Stoudemire is musing about starting a rival league, without understanding all that would entail. And LeBron James is joking about playing football, which provides a cute distraction – and even got Pete Carroll to commission a “James” jersey. Yet the chances of James suiting up for the Seahawks are as slim as the players beating these suits in a spin game.
Thursday, on WFAN in New York, Stern said it “was time to make a deal. If we don’t make it Tuesday, my gut is that we won’t be playing on Christmas Day.”
The players would be wise to take the deal, because it won’t get better.