No amount of star power will help players get upper hand in standoff
The dug-in owners have shown few signs of backing down in the labor fight
The stars have pushed to hold the line, but many rank-and-file would compromise
One agent was confident that a deal would get done to save a shortened season
How u, NBA fans?
Oh, nobody asked u? Not even Roger Mason, whose infamous "how u" tweet isn't so funny anymore and whose National Basketball Players' Association colleagues learned the hard way on Monday night that -- as I've been writing for months -- owners weren't about to back down? Not even commissioner David Stern, who has failed so spectacularly in a labor fight that just got a whole lot more serious?
Two weeks of regular-season games are gone, and with them the chance to have an untainted season that simply shouldn't have been sacrificed. More than a year's worth of predictions that the entire 2011-12 season could be in jeopardy remain intact. That includes, of course, the one from Mason by way of his inadvertent soothsaying on Sept. 7. Comedic kicker and all, it's officially more prediction than punch line now.
"Looks like a season [will be lost]," the Knicks' guard wrote and later explained. "How u."
Not good, Roger. Not good at all.
I wish I hadn't been right. I still hope I'm proved wrong.
To be clear, it was always much easier to offer collective-bargaining advice than it was for the NBPA to actually take it. Wave the white flag. Take it to a vote. Easier said than done, to be sure, and probably not even close to fair.
There's truth in the union's assertion that the owners want a foolproof system that protects them (and their inefficient front offices) from their own mistakes and practically guarantees profitability. It is, as the union says, unrealistic for the league to demand that the players account for almost all $300 million in reported annual losses by seeing their share of basketball-related income plunge from 57 percent to 50 percent while the owners also get most of the drastic system changes they so desire.
But my warnings were rooted in a reality that appears unchanged: This train full of over-the-top owners is a-comin', and players can pay their toll for a ride or -- along with the fans -- get steamrolled.
The players have a major problem with that premise, though, namely the part about who's hauling the freight and who's sitting in the conductor's chair. This is, they contest, their league. And they're partly right.
Star power drives revenues more in the NBA than any other major sport, and the standouts' peers seem to acknowledge that even if their bosses don't. In the weeks leading up to Monday's cancellation of games through Nov. 14, the voices of Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were heard above the rest as part of the union's strong stance; meanwhile, some of the rank-and-file players who quietly hoped for a lesser deal to be completed were not involved. It was, the players made clear, the reason they took a late hard line on the division of BRI. A 50-50 split that looked possible last week was deemed unacceptable, in part because it didn't reflect the true nature of this arrangement of which the players believe they play a bigger part.
So LeBron demanded they don't go below 53 percent, and the power agents who once wanted to decertify the union cautioned against dipping below 52 percent. Even the most informed among them have only an educated guess as to whether the owners will ever back down, but one such source insisted there was still reason to think Stern won't take this mess much further. The prominent agent, who is not in that well-publicized group, was undaunted by the latest news and still confident a deal would get done soon.
"This canceling games [expletive] is not going to scare the players like it did in '98," the agent said. "We'll get a deal done. ... Stern can't beat these dudes."
But no amount of star power can put the players in the driver's seat in negotiations, and therein lies the rub. In the absence of any evidence that the owners care about losing the season or the fans who might go with it, there's no reason to think this plan the owners hatched so long ago is going to change.
Hunter said as much to reporters on Monday, reiterating how he's convinced that Stern and his group are prepared to miss one and maybe even two seasons to get the profitability and parity they want. Gone was the talk that some of the most powerful owners were quietly clamoring for a full season, that the large-market teams would force a divide so great that these talks would finally become fruitful. And now comes the not-so-fun part. Stern suggested that the offers will only get worse as the owners attempt to recoup their losses.
When Stern made it clear that these games were being canceled as opposed to postponed, the league's swift reaction to its own news did nothing to sway the conspiracy theorists. A release announcing the elimination of two weeks was distributed just minutes after Stern's statement to reporters, and the games were wiped away from the digital schedules on each team's website not long after.
Players flocked to Twitter to voice their disappointment and frustration. The Knicks' Carmelo Anthony hit the most accurate, if not eloquent, tones.
"I just wanna apologize to all the fans for this lockout," he wrote. "Trust me, I feel y'all pain. This [expletive] sucks...LET US PLAY!!!!!!! #StandUnited."
The players are standing on principle now, but they may be standing over the grave of the 2011-12 campaign before long.
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