HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Your anger is understandable.
Mostly because the actions of so many are indefensible.
With this latest breakdown in talks between the two sides in the NBA’s labor madness comes a sobering truth about this entire process. It’s never been about saving the game or even preserving it for the fans. It’s about two sides fighting over a billion dollar pie and each one wanting the biggest piece. Someone has to win and someone has to lose, compromise be damned!
We knew as much when this thing started, but we seemed to lose sight of that in the past few months with all the details tossed into the fray to deflect our attention from the fundamentals of this dispute. Our confidence has been betrayed by the men who have asked for that very thing from us, the basketball loving public,. And here we stand, just days away from what should have been the start of a season, staring at a potential season on the brink.
When the federal mediator both sides agreed to let dive into the middle of this battle packs up his stuff and heads for the door after three days of listening to everyone talk, it’s clear the “gulf” between the positions NBA Commissioner David Stern spoke of last week is greater than most of us imagined.
Unlike many of my less cynical colleagues here at the hideout and beyond, I wasn’t expecting a resolution to this process this week. I did (foolishly) assume that some tangible progress this week could lead to a deal sometime in the very near future.
But not after reading these words from NBPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler after the Board of Governors meeting:
“This meeting was hijacked. Something happened at their [owners] meeting. This is not the move where the owners were yesterday. We were making progress, as you heard.
“They came back, they came without the commissioner. They came with Paul Allen. We were told Paul Allen was here to express the views of the other members of the Board of Governors. And that view was: ‘Our way or the highway.’
“That’s what we were told. We were shocked. We went in there trying to negotiate, and they came in and said, ‘You either accept 50-50 or we’re done. And we won’t discuss anything else.’ “
Point fingers in whatever direction you like. Both sides are doing the same now without hesitation.
We’re inclined to take the index fingers on both hands, point them in both directions and remind the owners and players that they are playing with the one sacred item in this entire affair. If they think the fans, die-hard and casual alike, will simply assume the position and wait in the parking lot until someone frees them all, they are mistaken.
The owners and players should be mindful of the sacrifices that need to be made or risk sacrificing all that’s been built in recent years and risk doing any further damage than they’ve already done …
Welcome To The Circus
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: What happened Thursday was irresponsible and gutless — which shouldn’t come as a surprise in sports, where the irresponsible and gutless go to make their millions (or billions) and play us for fools.
They take our money to finance their palaces, gouge us for pretzels, beer and parking, and laugh all the way to the country club. All they want, said labor relations committee chairman Peter Holt of the San Antonio Spurs, whose arena was built with $145 million in public funds, is the chance to “make a few bucks.”
Do me a favor, Mr. Holt: Leave the condescending cowboy talk in Texas where it belongs.
When they pick up the phone in a day or two — and they will, they always do — they’ll expect you to care that they’re getting together to try this again. Don’t. Don’t get played again.
When the news release goes out announcing the canceling of another chunk of your games, they’ll expect you to understand — and come back when it’s all over.
Do that at your own peril.
I’m mad at everybody right now, but do you know who I’m angrier at? The owners. Why? Because I believe Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher when they say it was an ultimatum from the owners that shattered these talks Thursday night. Let me explain why.
After 24½ hours of seemingly productive mediation over two days, strange things happened Thursday. The heavy lifting that had been progressing over the previous two days was over the system issues upon which a turning point in the talks seemingly hinged. This is what we had been told when all hell broke loose on 63rd Street outside the Lowell Hotel on Oct. 10 — that it wasn’t about the money anymore, it was about the system.
And you know what it’s about in sports when they tell you it’s not about the money? You guessed it: It’s about the money.
No Surprises Here
J.A. Adande of ESPN.com: Simply put, it’s in neither side’s best interest to do a deal right now.
The players won’t start missing paychecks until next month, and they have almost $200 million returned to them from escrow to tide them over for a bit. As Spurs owner Peter Holt reportedly said during negotiations, the players haven’t felt enough pain yet.
It makes sense for the owners to wait to see what the players have to say when their bank accounts start dwindling. It’s the difference between offering someone dessert after a full meal or offering a fruit roll-up after a cross-country flight.
The players have to hold on to the hope that they’ll get a favorable ruling in November from the National Labor Relations Board, which could ultimately impose an injunction that lifts the lockout, at least temporarily. It’s a long shot, but it’s the only hope for leverage that they have.
You know a deal is nowhere close when the owners’ side has Dan Gilbert telling the players to trust him. Yeah, that’ll work. It’s the same Dan Gilbert who went from sweet-talking LeBron James and offering him $125 million to shooting arrows at his back after he left. Put it this way: How seriously would the owners take it if LeBron came into the room and told the Cavs’ owner to take the players’ proposal and trust him on it?
For now, the only thing the players have to say that will get the owners’ attention is lowering their share of the basketball-related income. They’ve already come down from the 57 percent in the old collective bargaining agreement to a proposed 53 percent. They have offered another idea of a “band” ranging from 50 percent to 53 percent, depending on the league’s annual revenues, but probably would average more than 52 percent by their calculations.
Zach Lowe of SI.com’s The Point Forward: Allen’s presence had the union convinced that “something happened” in the Board of Governors meeting, Kessler said. And the implication was clear: The hard-line owners who weren’t typically involved in key negotiating sessions wanted their representatives to take a firmer line, and they sent Allen to make sure that happened.
“We were all befuddled, bewildered,” Hunter said. Hunter and Fisher then checked with Holt and Silver: “Is that a take it or leave it?” Hunter asked. “And Peter Holt said, ‘Yeah, basically, it is,’” Hunter recalled, adding that Holt indicated the owners would not discuss system issues unless the union agreed to the 50-50 split. The union leaders retreated to their private room, believing the talks were over, only to have Cohen coax everyone back into the same room again at least once. Hunter again asked if they might “park” the revenue split and discuss the cap and tax system; Holt and Silver again said no, per Hunter’s detailed recounting of things. “There’s no way in the world we are ever going to agree to 50-50 if we don’t know the system,” he told reporters.
Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert suggested at one point that the players could “trust” the owners to deliver a fair system provided the owners first got a commitment on the 50-50 split, Hunter said. “It was Dan Gilbert who said to me that I should trust his gut,” Hunter recalled. “And I said, ‘No, I can’t trust your gut. I’m going to trust my own gut. I’m not going to trust that you’re going to be open and amenable to changes to the system we find appropriate,’” Hunter said, citing almost line-by-line dialogue.
Hunter didn’t stop at calling out Gilbert and Allen. In the union’s most direct and specific attempt to portray the owners as divided, Hunter mentioned by name four owners –Jerry Buss of the Lakers, James Dolan of the Knicks, Mark Cuban of the Mavericks and Micky Arison of the Heat — who are, according to Hunter, ready to make a deal. “They want a deal,” Hunter said of those four owners. “A group of owners from small markets are dug in, and they are carrying the day. The guys who are anxious to cut a deal don’t have the votes.”
It was an extraordinary public accounting of a private negotiation, one clearly fueled by anger over the alleged misrepresentations [Deputy Commissioner Adam] Silver and Holt gave reporters a few minutes earlier. We have seen nothing quite like it so far in these talks. It is discouraging. And the anger matters. The two sides need to cool off now, and it is unclear when they will meet next.
Getting Uglier By The Minute
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: As he and Fisher made their charges, one can imagine Stern’s flu-driven temperature rising. But they were not speaking to him. They were not really trying to sway the public.
Mostly, they were angry. They were tired and disappointed and frustrated. But more than anything, they were angry.
NBA players were no doubt watching, or if not, will hear every charge repeated as word spreads why the union believes negotiations ended on Thursday. They will soon be as angry and determined as Hunter and Fisher.
If the league is, as Hunter charged, trying to break the union, that display solidified it.
The problem with venting all that indignation is that it does not get the sides closer to a deal. It does not apply pressure on the owners. The public was not watching. The media covering the lockout and negotiations will be influenced and will report what the sides said, but that is not going to somehow soften the owners’ position.
Calling the other side liars might have felt right, but will only make things worse.
Things have gotten so bad that the mediator, George Cohen, saw little point in wasting his time, announcing in a statement that “no useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time.”
Yet as much as they differed about why talks ended again, they — and the obvious levels of mistrust — showed why they can seem so close to accord and find themselves ready to set fire to the 2011-12 season.
According to Silver, the players indicated they might be able to give on their share of the basketball related income if the owners compromised more on their demands about the system. The NBA, he said, consider those to be separate issues in which they must have major changes.
“We have certain core beliefs we feel are absolutely necessary to achieve before we continue to play NBA basketball,” Silver said.
A New Villain Emerges?
Ben Golliver of CBSSports.com‘s Eye On Basketball: You want stubborn? Allen rode his pipe dream of running a cable company all the way to the ground, losing billions of dollars and eventually declaring bankruptcy.
You want off his rocker? He’s currently being sued by his own ex-military bodyguards for allegations of illegal activity, his helicopter recently crashed during an excursion to Antarctica and, oh yeah, he’s gone through two general managers and a vice president of basketball operations since the 2010 NBA Draft. He passes his time, including on Thursday morning, exchanging tweets about what rock song the Seattle Seahawks, his NFL franchise, should play at practice. [Seahawks coach Pete] Carroll plays along, of course, because he, like every Allen employee, knows his job depends on it.
You want “uninformed” on the state of the negotiations? Allen deputized team president Larry Miller to attend Board of Governors meetings and labor negotiations on his behalf. He put exactly the same amount of blood, sweat and tears into the possibility of a labor agreement as [Kevin] Garnett: none.
You want emotional? Allen recently wrote an autobiography that included many unflattering stories about, and a recounting of decades-old grudges towards, his Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, one of the world’s greatest philanthropists. The book led to a falling out between the two men, who had been friends since high school, with Allen admitting during a television interview that Gates had stopped talking to him.
And, of course, there’s the money issue. All you need to know about that is that Allen has a private island for sale, owns multiple yachts (one of which cost $200 million to make, nearly as much money as Garnett has earned during his NBA career), and has a helipad on the roof of the Rose Garden, Portland’s home arena. Forbes pegged his net worth at $13.2 billion on a recent list of the 400 richest Americans, a figure that made him worth more than the next two richest NBA owners on the list, combined.
Why, you might be asking, would the owners pick Allen, of all people, to deliver the hard-line message to the union that ultimately led to the disintegration of talks and all sorts of harsh accusations on Thursday?
Because he’s so rich that he’s immune to the criticism, as capable of buying silence and peace of mind for himself as anyone on the planet. A man who has been cleanly divorced from the common man for decades. A man who claims to have lost a billion dollars on the Blazers in his two decades of ownership and therefore couldn’t care less about the fallout that results from a nuclear explosion in the middle of labor talks.
Same Old Song
Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press: Meanwhile, it’s easy to dwell on the wretched excesses of the super-pampered, multimillionaire athletes. They are not the Little Guys going against The Man anymore. The owners are the Little Guys, albeit still virtually unlikable.
Only the NFL players were worthy of sympathy during their most recent lockout. They truly were getting a bad deal, all things considered. And they deserved whatever they could pry from the greedy, cigar-chomping owners.
The NBA situation is particularly ludicrous. The owners are holding out for the right to tax the hell out of each other. Unable to control their own spending, they want to implement an ultra-hefty “luxury tax” that penalizes anyone whose payroll exceeds a certain level.
This is the equivalent of a serial killer scrawling on the wall of his latest victim: “Somebody stop me before I do it again.”
Meanwhile, the players say they are all about free enterprise and the good old American way. Yet one of their demands is that the owners agree to more revenue sharing as a way of propping up ailing franchises. It doesn’t quite seem consistent.
I think most people have stopped caring during all of the recent labor disagreements and simply tuned it out. If and when play resumes, they likely will turn their attention back to their favorite teams.
But overall, another pro sports work stoppage is extremely irritating on so many levels. Salary caps, luxury taxes, revenue splits … all these lockouts look and sound the same. Just plug a sport into the headline. NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL – they are all interchangeable.
And the only thing we know for sure is that ticket prices eventually will go up.
Stern Isn’t The Only One Sick
Randy Hill of FoxSportsArizaona.com: We thought we had a testosterone filter. His name is George Cohen. The federal mediator, who worked with the NFL during its work stoppage, has considerable experience occupying the “no-finger-wagging zone” in meetings that co-star professional sports league owners and the wealthy athletes who play on their teams.
So, with someone like Cohen on hand to help steer the emotion out of these chats, there had been reported progress.
The biggie was an alleged push toward a level split of the BRI. Before Cohen rode into these sessions, the mere suggestion of getting near 50-50 inspired Kevin Garnett — backed up by Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce — to stare that notion into a withering retreat. We’re at 53 percent, the union’s biggest names declared, and we’re not going a drop less!
But this week, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban — who’s more often been a pain in the neck for Stern over the years — was credited with helping to make both sides see the potential merits of more equitable sharing. With the talks on life support Thursday evening, we might be wise to assume that a few members of the players’ committee viewed footage of Cubes on “Dancing With the Stars” and returned to what they thought were their 53-percent senses.
With 50-50 looming as the qualifying agent for further talks, the latest adjournment did not include any plan to reconvene.
We also should point out that a more reasonable penalty for exceeding the luxury tax was rumored to have been on the table. According to an insider who knows the cousin of someone connected to an agent’s brother, the owners’ previous super-luxury tax proposal was brutal; it required the offender to hire Kurt Rambis as head coach and outfit him with a five-year contract.
Speaking of bad contracts, owners and players also have been looking into some kind of amnesty clause. Including the word amnesty doesn’t mean Eddy Curry would have been free to return without penalty from wherever he’s been hiding, but it could allow a team to dump someone with his contract-performance profile a lot less painfully.
If all of this would have taken us where we need to go (back to the arena), I was all for it. Optimism — even if it turned out to be misplaced — seemed to be better than absorbing more bad news.
But with a surge of hope now dissolving into expectation of more whacking of scheduled games, we now move closer to the nuclear options of decertification and measuring the teeth in lingering lawsuits.