Labor Talks: Here We Go Again

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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).

(SI.com and NBA TV’s legal analyst Michael McCann details all of the particulars for you!)

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 …

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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35 Comments

  1. marcusb says:

    y do the players even bother ?…the longer this goes the worse it is for them and the owners gain leverage ….this is ridonkulos

  2. Chris says:

    Lets just have a NBA season. So damn greedy!! Should bbe watchin the heat at 5 but no!! Want another championship

  3. Barry B says:

    Seems the most vocal players are the ones that make the most money. I can’t believe the majority of players agree with the union position. And, note the most vocal players are the ones that have millions of dollars coming in from endorsements – endorsements they would never have obtained without the NBA as their platform, So, why don’t these vocal players throw their endorsements fees into the calculation of BRI? Oh ya – what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.

    Players = Employee (very well paid employees)
    Owners = Owners taking the risk of hundreds of millions invested to make a bunch of spoiled brats wealthy.

  4. it’s really hard to submit one’s self to a standard without meeting satisfaction. we could not feel the power and command of the nba commissioner for the matter. one thing is sure that for the nba as an institution of this basketball world, he as the commissioner should have to think of the dismay of all its fans these past days. as we look at it, and as the way he acts, there is no way that he is for the huge preservation of the nba and for maintaining its entertainment value the way it is use to be.

  5. d. meador says:

    The players deserve a paycheck for the service they provide. as far as i am concerned they deserve nothing more. all BRI as it is called belongs to the owners they players should have no right to none of it. It is wrong to think that the owners should not want to make a profit why be in bussness if you cant. I belive when they sign a deal thats it , each and every one here knows that the employer they work for is not going to give them 57% of there profit why does anyone expect the nba owners to do so

    • Frank says:

      You sir/madam are the first person on the NBA internets to make any sense at all. BRI belongs to the owners. It is out of their generosity that they share it with the players. Do players share their sponsorship money with the owners? This is nothing but greed people. Greed from the players who have had it very easy in the last CBA. It is time for a dose of reality, if you can call multi million dollar contracts reality.

  6. Pepe says:

    Yes; Soccer ( Football) in Europe and South america , is been watched by almost half world around. NBA , is a lesser of a fans sport.

  7. Scott o says:

    The NBA is a terrible version of basketball and terrible entertainment, and the league, the players and the owners all need a good dose of don’t care from the public. The solution to restoring the quality of the game is:

    Cut six teams. That will redistribute 30 starters to compete for spots on other teams, improving all rosters.

    Don’t let kids in with just one year of college. Most aren’t ready, no matter how gifted. They haven’t had enough quality coaching and competition to be NBA ready, but their draft day contracts sort of force coaches to start them and design the entire team’s game around them anyway.

    Get rid of guaranteed contracts. Fans shouldn’t have to suffer for years because a GM made a bad deal with a bad player. God, Sixers fans suffered the Jeff Ruland and Matt Geiger contracts for something like 12 years.

    Do these three things, and I might watch a game or too to give it another try. As of now, I have been out for about six years.

    • PleaseEndThis!!!!!!!! says:

      These are great suggestions. I hope they are heard.

    • Frank says:

      If the NBA is so terrible, why are you posting comments on an NBA site. Also, if making 3 slight changes, and not even to the game itself, would greatly improve the NBA brand of basketball in in your eyes, then maybe it is not so terrible after all.

  8. Brian says:

    I need NBA!! pleaseeeeeeeeee from argentina!

  9. Nicey says:

    The owners put them in a corner…where the players can’t decide anymore (sad, but true)…it’s all about the players costing the season or no, now…It’s all about the statement the players want to make…

  10. Colby Ackley says:

    Last thing i’ll say very quickley let the future if there is one for the NBA be decide by thosye who play the game. For some this sport is their lively hood.

  11. Colby Ackley says:

    Also why should the players agree to a deal the owners and stern want when they’re the ones the people come to see. It’s their (the players) job to play basketball. They should have say in what goes and what doesn’t. I know some of you are going to think i’m stupid but i’ve had enough of this crap. I’ve hated Stern since day one when he became commisioner and if everyone knew that the owners would do this to the players for years why didn’t anyone work on a way to try and stop this from happening during those years the owners planned on doing this? Anyway to those of you who think i’m stupid i’m sorry, i’m just an upset fan who has had enough. Don’t get me wrong, i love college basketball more than the NBA but, i watch the NBA more due to the amazing ball players. Lebron (even though i can’t stand him) Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, D-Wade, Dwight Howard, and the second best player to ever play the game behind Mr. Jordon, Kobe Bryant. These are the people that make me watch the NBA, NNOOTTTT David Stern and the idiot owners.

  12. knickfan1 says:

    I have to agree with Rose. If it was a strike, I’d blame the players, but it’s not. It’s a lockout, so I have to blame the owners.

  13. David says:

    Once again… I think that is not so hard to solve this, but only if both sides want it. The question could be, ¿Do they want that?

  14. Alexus Cooper says:

    this is going to be a long debate on this subject why didn’t they let them play with pay and we won’t have to wait on this season.

  15. Enough says:

    Jalen Rose: “If it was a strike, I’d blame the players. It’s a lockout; you’d have to say the owners.”
    Me: I agree that the owners are responsible for no basketball, but when people say it’s a lockout, not a strike, they make it sound like the players can’t do anything to end the lockout. They can accept the owners deal anytime they want. Sure it might not be as good as the last deal, but it seems pretty good to me.

    Jalen Rose: “It’s upsetting the public doesn’t realize that an owner gets an unlimited time to make money; a player doesn’t.”
    Me: Are the players unable to get another job after their NBA career ends? I’m sure they could get some kind of a job. If not, maybe the NBA needs to make these kids get a college degree before they can be drafted.

    Jalen Rose: “An actor gets 20 million for a (bad) movie, nobody says a word.”
    Me: Nobody cares if a movie is bad, most of them are. I don’t think that means people don’t think actors aren’t over-paid.

    Jalen Rose: “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.”
    Me: Like the average person who makes $2 million/yr. Do you even realize that I can’t even appreciate how much that really is? In my lifetime, I will never have a million of anything. It’s like an imaginary number to me. You might as well say they make $2 billion-kajillion/yr.

    • Jorge Sousa says:

      «they make it sound like the players can’t do anything to end the lockout. They can accept the owners deal anytime they want. Sure it might not be as good as the last deal, but it seems pretty good to me.»

      That logic is a clear demonstration of why lockouts are prohibited in a lot of countries.

  16. Eshan says:

    I would like a turkey sandwich with mayonnaise.

  17. BFoulds says:

    Good job losing your #3 spot to MLS. If your goal is to kill yourselves, you’re doing fantastic.

  18. brohanlon says:

    This is just pathetic. The players and owners already make enough money as it is and now (this year) they are all being greedy. Even the worst player in the nba makes like 500,000 $, isn’t that enough? I think they need to make a descision fast and soon. Its not going to help if they keep meeting with each other and saying they’re making progress when they’re not. Its really frustrating for fans around the world.

  19. Daver says:

    I just read an article that soccer bumped basketball out of the number 3 spot for most watched professional sports, I can’t help but wonder where the NBA will be ranked after this mess is over. Each side wants a bigger piece of the pie, however the size of the pie will continue to shrink!

  20. Mura says:

    I have to side with the players on this one. Simply put, the owners purchased their respective teams because they could afford to. It’s not their primary business. It’s their hobby. For a NBA player, it’s their job. Granted, it’s a job that most of us would do for a fraction of a fraction of what the upper echelon get paid, but that’ll never happen as we’re not that good. The owners have the benefit of being able to squeeze players because they, again, own businesses that have already made them billionaires! Casual fans may resent the players, but that’s only because they’re the visible ones. Put the blame where it belongs. On the people who’ve planed this lockout for years.

    • gettingannoyed says:

      the blame is on both sides. neither the players or the league are thinking about the thousands and thousands of people that work for them that are out of their 30k a year job. why? because they cant figure out how to split 2.5% what is it. 1.6billion? both sides are greedy and both sides need to shut their mouths and get back to work. enough is enough.
      they’ve said repeatidly they feel sorry for the fans/employees that are out of a job. well than PROVE IT AND GET IT DONE.

    • God says:

      About 1 month ago it was revealed that the players were planning to go two years without basketball when the 2011 cba ended. They said to stern years ago that’s the only way they can agree with the owners.

  21. Not getting my hopes up this time :(