HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If we are indeed on the verge of yet more of the NBA regular season being chopped down by the stalled lockout negotiations, perhaps it’s time for the sides involved to take a breath.
Maybe we all need to take a step back and listen to what both the owners and players are trying to say about their positions. We tried our best Monday to provide the proper forum for you, the fans of the game, to speak your mind about where you stand. And we’ve heard in detail exactly where the league stands in regards to this latest impasse.
Listening to union executive director Billy Hunter on The B.S. Report with Bill Simmons of Grantland.com provided a drama- free opportunity to hear Hunter’s argument and try to grasp how we got here and where we might be headed. (You need to carve out an hour to listen. It’s an absolute must-listen, especially the part when Hunter reveals that he and NBA Commissioner David Stern are fraternity brothers.)
The finger-pointing that marked last week’s breakdown in talks was pleasantly absent from this conversation, which made it much easier to wrap your head around exactly why the players feel the way they do toward the owners, who have come under considerable fire themselves since last week.
And for those of you who enjoy a tidy list, our friends at the Los Angeles Times have compiled an easy-to-read roster of exactly where all 30 owners stand on the lockout.
ALLEN UNDER FIRE
Portland owner Paul Allen has been the most talked about member of the owner’s side since last week, both in Portland and beyond. Whatever his role was in last week’s breakdown of talks, he’s being fingered as the man whose presence led to a severe crack in the process.
The dizzying 72-hours of drama that ensued was recounted by Zach Lowe of The Point Forward, who also pointed out that the league sought out members of Portland’s local press to defend Allen against a storm of charges from various unnamed sources:
Those of us who read The Oregonian‘s NBA coverage noticed that the lead byline on the piece belonged to Allan Brettman, a business writer who is not part of the paper’s regular NBA crew. That was strange. Shortly after the piece appeared, Mike Tokito, listed at the bottom as a contributor, revealed via Twitter that the NBA told The Oregonian before the Silver interview that the deputy commissioner would only speak to a reporter who was not part of the paper’s NBA team. If the paper would not abide by that, the league threatened to send [Deputy Commissioner Adam] Silver to a competitor, Tokito claimed.
Q: The first half of your book deals with how you made your fortune, the second half on how you’ve spent it—buying sports teams, building rocket ships, searching for aliens (by funding the SETI Institute), pursuing artificial intelligence, making movies, the huge boat, a submarine. These were all things you were fascinated by as a kid. It’s almost like you set out to relive your childhood, just with a lot more money.
A: It’s not about reliving your childhood; it’s about what’s interesting and exciting. Some of these things might change the world in terms of scientific research on the brain, or listening for alien signals, which I like to say is the longest of long shots. But then there are just things that I saw when I was young. It was the golden era of early manned rocketry, so it was always in the back of my mind that if I could participate in some of these things, and maybe move them forward, that would be a dream come true. Other things, like the sports teams, you do because the community asked me to save the team and keep it in my hometown [the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL]. The other team [the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA] was just because I loved the sport. Some things you do because they make your life fun, but they’re big responsibilities. You’ve got a responsibility to a whole community.
OWNERS V. OWNERS?
Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald offers up another rather interesting perspective on the current state of affairs, suggesting that the backbone of this struggle right now is “selfish owners battling one another.” It’s not a completely novel take, but it is the first we’ve read that’s been highlighted with the sort of detail and examples (namely the Heat’s Micky Arison and Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert) provided here:
Think about all the ego and money in the room when those owners meet. Think about how accustomed these men with yachts are to getting their way in every walk of life. That kind of wealth isn’t usually accrued by sharing and compromise; these men tend to be rich because cutthroat is what wins in business. Given that there are so many different interests in that room, and given that these owners aren’t really in it for the money, why would Gilbert want to help Arison with urgency, exactly? Even if he is not motivated by spite, what exactly is Gilbert’s impetus to settle quickly? You think he’s in a big hurry to go 19-63 again? Better for him to lose the season, break the union, fix the system and win that way than to fight the Timberwolves for worst record again. Trying to beat the players in a negotiation is more fun than that. Letting Dwyane Wade age another year next to James without playing would be a happy bonus for Gilbert, even if it isn’t his outright goal.
Yes, Arison and Gilbert are the extremes. But here’s the scary part for Heat fans: More owners are closer to Gilbert’s camp than Arison’s. There are only five or six legitimate contenders in the lopsided NBA every year, if that. Might as well make money and rig the system in our favor for the next decade, the rest of the owners are saying, if I don’t have a real chance to win. It isn’t a coincidence that Mavs owner Mark Cuban and Arison are the most eager to get a deal done. But they are the minority when Yahoo! is reporting that even Paul Allen, one of the world’s richest men, has grown bored and disinterested with how far behind his Blazers are and is now a lot closer to Gilbert in philosophy than Arison. The Heat changed the paradigm in a way that gives too many owners who are behind incentive to fix the system instead of trying to win within it. If everyone had a real chance, no owner would want a lockout, scoreboard losses hurting these wealthy men more than financial ones. That’s why Stern, who works for the owners, has been so loud and threatening as their mouthpiece.
JACKSON’S CALL TO ACTION
Today marks a first in that someone has finally made the call for the players to vacate the entire 2011-12 season to make their point. ESPN.com‘s Scoop Jackson, always something of a radical, delivers his explanation for this proposed “call to action” …
If you want to do something in the best interest of the future of the game at this level, continuing to stand strong about what you all believe is fair. If it means not playing in an NBA arena or putting on an NBA uniform until October 2012, so be it.
Sacrifice of self is the eternal path to self-respect.
Force them to do more than blink. Think differently, and make them think differently … about you. Force all ownership — even as they are the people who will pay you — to look at you and the players who will enter the League after you’re gone as more than just property, peons or pieces of clay.
Force them to look at you and treat you like Steve Jobs looked at software. He knew that without software, all the iPhones, iPods and iPads in the world were nothing but expensive pieces of aluminum and stainless steel. Jobs respected those who could create and develop the software to make them useful. NBA players should make the owners do the same.
Which is why losing the season is more important now than playing one is. Even if the players find themselves in the exact same position next year, with the same modifications to the old CBA in front of them, they will have made the point that they are not willing to be treated this way. It’s a stand that will have far-reaching ramifications for any such negotiations in the future.
This is not an encouragement to revolt, or a mutiny against fans or the system or the NBA. This is not about them. Nor is this a suggestion of indifference to the people beyond the players who will be without work for the next 12 months if there are no NBA games. Bless them. Unfortunately, though, this comes with the territory in any industry where there is a union and ownership makes the effort to do what’s in the best interest of ownership rather than the service it provides. From public school teachers (when children are the collateral damage) to municipal bus drivers (when commuters are hurt), innocent people suffer when contractual disagreements occur.
This is about NBA players doing what regular, everyday workers in their regular, everyday work situations should consider doing when the work environment between employer and employees reaches this level of contempt.
At some point in life and careers, damaging decisions must be made. Thirteen years ago, when the owners claimed players’ salaries were out of control and were outpacing revenues (sound familiar?), the players didn’t fold, and the owners ultimately reduced the season to 50 games.
We imagine the reaction to Jackson’s call to action will be as intense as any we’ve seen around these parts since the lockout began. While we can’t simply co-sign such a thing — we here at the Hideout are holding out for as much of a season as we can get at this point — he does make a compelling argument.
Big-picture issues aside, we just want the NBA back in our lives. (NBA.com‘s chief negotiator Steve Aschburner has even come up with an alternative mediator to add to the process).
And we’ll take it by any means necessary!