HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Did you wake up this morning wondering what the first weekend of November has in store for you, NBA fans?
Let us help.
How about another round of “talks,” perhaps even another round of hollow smiles and more posturing about deadlines that move at the whim of the men on both sides of the league’s labor dispute and even a scare tactic or two that threatens to cost us the entire 2011-12 season?
We completely understand if lockout fatigue syndrome is full-blown in your household. It’s choking the life out of things here at the hideout, where every breaking news blast is met with a raised eyebrow and questions about who might be pulling the strings on this latest stunt (the dissolution of the union is coming back to the forefront now).
They’ve met in small groups, larger groups and committees. There have been conference calls, secret ones and not-so-secret alike, news conferences and now threats of the union decertifying and still no sign of the one thing we need … a new collective bargaining agreement!
Substantive talks are one thing and we’d welcome anything in that neighborhood going on this weekend.
But showing up to a Manhattan hotel and sticking around just long enough to tell each other that nothing has changed is not what we’d consider progress.
And we’re not the only ones exhausted by the process …
Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe captures the mood of many with his column that places the current state of affairs in the proper historical context:
It is very annoying for those of us who still love the sport of professional basketball to see what its custodians are currently doing to harm it. I wish it were as easy to decipher as the NFL madness. It was pretty easy to outfit the combatants in that one.
White Hats: Players
Black Hats: Owners
The NFL lockout was about very rich guys, all making a profit from their teams, wanting more. The players asked for nothing. Status quo was fine with them. There was a $9 billion pie, and there was ample opportunity for everyone to get a nice slice.
The NBA pie is worth “only’’ approximately $4 billion, and, unlike the NFL, not everyone makes a profit. That is clear. But just who is losing what remains unclear, because history teaches us that in these matters, professional sports teams make statements concerning their finances that, while perhaps not outright lies, are, shall we say, substantial stretches of the truth. Make that enormous, stupendous, astonishing stretches of the truth.
In general terms, I have always believed that you can trust most owners only as far as you can throw the building.
For whatever reason, when the two sides forged the last collective bargaining agreement, the owners were in a generous mood. They allotted the players 57 percent of what is known as BRI, or “Basketball-Related Income.’’
Now the owners are saying that hasn’t worked out so well, and they want a far larger share. They want many other things, too, and it all comes under the heading of “New Economic Model,’’ one that is substantially less favorable to the players.
Blah, blah, blah. That’s the way you feel, and that’s the way I feel. There is plenty of money to go around. Just get it done. It’s time to play ball.
HT fave Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the fight is over for the union. He’s already declared a winner and wonders if and when the players will wake up and realize that it’s all over:
Sports fans, there should be an NBA labor deal in a matter of weeks and then the start of the season at some point after Dec. 15, with a schedule that could be 72 games, 60 or 50, depending on the timing.
You will have Warriors games. You will see the Lakers play on television. You might witness some understandably angry players for a while, but you will have the NBA, again.
And the players will have to get over it.
Because the real parts of the NBA labor struggle are, for all intents and purposes, over.
We know there will be a deal probably within the next few weeks, possibly as soon as this weekend, when the owners and the union are set to meet again.
We know there are major cracks in the union’s solidarity (“Twitter is David Stern‘s best friend,” one NBA source joked, referring to some players’ 140-character pleas for a deal), and we know the union leadership is fraying at the seams.
We know that NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher have spent more time recently denying they were at odds than negotiating with the owners.
We know that the players need a season more than the owners do.
We know the owners know this, too. We know the owners have always known this. We know Stern and the owners have game planned everything they’ve done precisely because they knew all this.
We know the loose framework of this deal will be very close to the owners’ last offer of a 50/50 split of basketball revenue (with the players’ share cascading down from the 57 percent cut they received in the last labor deal).
We know most of the other issues — harsher luxury-tax penalties, shorter contracts — have basically already been agreed to, pending the big decision on the revenue split.
And we know that Stern and the owners have won.
Now all they have to do is decide the final score and the set the timeline and terms for forcing/accepting/inducing the union’s surrender.
Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News interviewed former NBA star and current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose, who points fingers at the owners as the cause for the labor impasse. While that wouldn’t seem like a bold stance to take, Rose is actually one of the few former players to take this stand publicly:
While Rose doesn’t have a crystal ball to project when the NBA will return, he said Christmas Day is big.
“If we wake up and there isn’t basketball from sunup to sundown, it will be a huge blow,” said Rose, who played 13 NBA seasons. “Players and owners will be in a compromising position.”
Still, though, Rose believes the owners are driving this.
“If the company is thriving, they’re in a position to dictate what happens,” he said. “They’re billionaires. The beat goes on until they come around.
“If it was a strike, I’d blame the players. It’s a lockout; you’d have to say the owners.”
Rose points out he was lucky to play more than 10 years, saying the average player stays in the league 3 1/2 years.
“It’s upsetting the public doesn’t realize that an owner gets an unlimited time to make money; a player doesn’t,” he said. “An actor gets 20 million for a (bad) movie, nobody says a word.
“Because there are 410 players who aren’t superstars, they’re like the average person who works a 9-to-5. Bills never stop. Kids, divorces, normal life circumstances.”
ESPN.com‘s salary cap guru Larry Coon isn’t as quick to dismiss decertification talk as some others. He breaks down the process and the changes it could have on the labor dispute going forward:
By decertifying, the players would be throwing a counterpunch after being on the ropes for many months. They already have conceded 4.5 percent of league revenues — moving from 57 percent in the last agreement to a proposed 52.5 percent — along with accepting many system changes that favor the owners. Meanwhile, the owners’ hard-line stance has hardly swayed in the two-plus years the sides have negotiated.
The mere threat of decertification would provide the players with much-needed leverage in the labor dispute. Anticipating such a move, the league filed a federal lawsuit, calling it an “impermissible pressure tactic,” and saying it has had a “direct, immediate and harmful” effect on the negotiations. The suit seeks a declaration from the court that the lockout does not violate antitrust laws in the event the union decertifies.
A hearing took place this week in Manhattan, N.Y., in which the union asked the judge to dismiss the suit. The judge has asked for additional briefs from both parties before rendering a decision.
Decertification owes its power to the uneasy truce between labor laws and antitrust laws. The antitrust laws prevent employers from banding together to restrain competition. For example, if all the banks in a city agreed that they would not pay their tellers more than $30,000 per year, it would almost certainly be illegal case of “price-fixing.” Likewise, if the banks laid off all their tellers and refused to rehire them unless they agreed to take a pay cut to $30,000, it would almost certainly be an illegal “group boycott.” These types of agreements — which restrain competition — are addressed by the antitrust laws.
However, collective bargaining encourages the very type of behavior that the antitrust laws make illegal. To resolve this inherent conflict, there is something called the “non-statutory labor exemption,” which shields collective bargaining agreements from attack under antitrust law. This protection extends even after the agreement expires — so long as a bargaining relationship continues to exist.
Here’s the key to the whole process: This bargaining relationship continues to exist as long as the union is in place. If the players dissolve the union, the bargaining relationship dissolves with it. Without the bargaining relationship, the league is no longer shielded from antitrust laws.
Much of the economic structure of the NBA — such as the salary cap, maximum salaries, rookie-scale salaries and the luxury tax — could be challenged under the antitrust laws as a form of price-fixing if there was no union. The lockout itself could be challenged as a group boycott.
Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News raises the ages old question of whether or not the owners and players care about the rest of us in the “real world?” (Hey, Bill: not as much as they care about themselves and what they’re fighting over). He also takes us down memory lane a bit:
I wonder if the NBA’s players and owners have given 1 second of thought to what is happening out there in the real world of underprivilege. Maybe David Stern should organize a caravan of tinted window Escalades and Humvees and drive through the Las Vegas suburbs to see the forest of For Sale and Foreclosed signs, then wheel past the banks that will go down because they can’t move all that bad paper.
So, anyway, here is my NBA moment from a time when there were just nine teams in the league and each one of them had at least one superstar. Elite teams like the 76ers and Celtics each had a handful and many of the games between them were masterpieces. You would pay to see Oscar Robertson play with four playground recruits.
When I moved from the Evening Bulletin to this newspaper in May of 1965, the writer who replaced me was a young and driven comet of a Holy Cross grad named Joe McGinniss. Before he became the best-selling author of controversial books with a reputation for hanging his subjects by using off-the-record material, Joe raced through sportswriting at the Bulletin and a city column for the Inquirer.
At one point, he went after Wilt’s abysmal foul shooting. In the ’66 playoffs, the Celtics took the Eastern Conference champs out in five games. Wilt was brutal. McGinniss wrote a column ripping Chamberlain for failing to show for an open-date shoot-around. I helped cover the next game at Convention Hall. Afterward, Wilt went after the slender McGinniss, who was waiting in front of The Dipper’s locker.
I made a serious mistake. I weighed about 225 at the time and tried to get between them. With one mighty shove, one of the strongest athletes who ever lived stuffed both of us into his locker, McGinniss first, me second. Tinned Irishmen.
I would not have missed that most excellent NBA adventure for all the bling in the Miami Heat locker room.
Marc Stein and Chris Broussard of ESPN.com detail how the decertification process might work for the players, if that were to be their next move provided this weekend’s sessions don’t go to their liking. If you think the past four months have been grueling for true fans of the game, tack on another 45 days worth of decertification drama and we’ll all be climbing the walls:
The conference calls, according to one source’s estimate to ESPN.com, have mobilized close to 100 players either in favor or giving strong consideration to signing a petition to request a formal decertification vote. The rules in place dictate that 30 percent of the union — roughly 130 players — sign a petition to request a vote. The case would then be taken to the National Labor Relations Board, which would have an estimated 45 days to decide on whether such a vote should be held.
During those 45 days, Hunter and union president Derek Fisher can continue to negotiate with NBA commissioner David Stern and the league’s owners. The belief among many agents, sources said, is that a deal with the league would be struck during that 45-day window, based on the idea that decertification — while by no means a guaranteed successful strategy for the players — could create sufficient uncertainty and legal threat to convince the owners to get a deal done before it gets to that point.
If a new labor deal was not completed within that 45-day span and a second vote is sanctioned by the NLRB, decertification would then require a simple majority vote of the league’s 450-odd players to pass. At that point, players would have the freedom to sue the NBA under antitrust law and attempt to bring an end to the lockout via court system.
Yet there are widespread fears around the league that, if decertification gets that far, any hope of playing even a reduced schedule in 2011-12 would be lost.
The so-called “Big Seven” agents who pushed for decertification throughout the summer — Mark Bartelstein, Bill Duffy, Dan Fegan, Leon Rose, Jeff Schwartz, Arn Tellem and Henry Thomas — have long believed that the league’s desire to keep this labor battle out of courts via the decertification process would force Stern and the union’s owners to bargain more fairly during the 45-day “grace” period.
While it is not immediately clear whether all seven agents were involved in organizing this week’s conference calls, sources said at least a few of them were involved.