We’re down to the wire. Today (Tuesday) the NBA owners and players begin a series of meetings with federal mediator George Cohen.
Can one man break the logjam? What tactics will the two sides employ to gain advantage? The answers are but a quick click away, so why are you still on the front page?
If you read my last piece (thanks for all the responses!) you can pretty much assume that I believe you can learn a lot from what commissioner Stern says when he’s teasing the media. His comments (and the comments of others familiar with the proceedings) in recent days indicate that one side is going to get broadsided on Tuesday morning. As everyone is aware, Mr. Cohen was brought in at the request of the players and owners to mediate the upcoming set of talks. He has a great deal of experience in facilitating labor disagreements and may be the one man that is capable of doing the job. Long-time sports fans breathed a small sigh of relief when it was revealed that he had been speaking to both sides for quite some time now. But any hope of resolution may have been premature.
Jay Krupin, head of EpsteinBeckerGreen – a national labor dispute consultancy – had the following to say: “This is an opportunity to really determine whether or not the players are willing to make concessions.” He went on to say that he believes the owners are ready to walk away from the table without an agreement. He asserts that pro sports franchise owners buy teams as a long term investment and are so wealthy to begin with that they can easily weather the financial losses associated with a protracted, or even cancelled season. I personally tend to think that for most owners, sports teams are grown man’s toys that bring status and notoriety despite the massive price tag. It’s a very male ego thing. Even in general society, guys are willing to do whatever it takes to have bragging rights to the hottest piece of tech. Remember how good it felt to finally score a PS3 or XBox 360? This is the same rush. The only difference is that the men buying a major league franchise have much deeper pockets. Those deep pockets are also the main reason the owners have a massive advantage in the discussions. A pro athlete has a limited shelf life. As I’ve stated in previous columns, the players only have a short time in which to make money in the bigs. After that, years, mileage, and injury have such an impact that most athletes are approaching retirement as they enter their mid-thirties. Look at it from the perspective of a siege during a war. Those protected by the high walls and shelter of the fortress can hold out indefinitely unless the attackers are prepared to take the massive losses that come with attacking a fortified position of higher ground. The advantage to those within the fortress is often insurmountable, as long as the supplies, weapons, and food are available. Once those things start to run out for either side in the battle, it’s crunch time. The attacking forces either give up and go home, or those inside face the choice of surrender or starvation. In this current labor stalemate, the owners have an almost limitless cache of supplies (money) in their collective wallets. Apart from a small group of wealthy superstars, most of the NBA players can get by for a while, but the loss of an entire season means shrinking savings and a career that is suddenly a full year shorter. The union has been cautioning its members to save as much cash as possible for quite some time. Most players saw this lockout coming for at least a couple of years. But we’re still talking about human beings. Those new to the NBA pay are suddenly richer than they’ve ever been. The temptation to buy cars, tech gadgets, and hold expensive parties is constant, and not all have the will power to resist. The odds increasingly favor the owners with each passing day. David Stern, the Grand, Almighty, Invincible, Omnipotent, Stomping Poobah of the NBA has shown almost daily that he has taken sides in the labor discussions. In many of his interviews and press releases this past week he has constantly said things like, “my owners,” and “my guys,” dropping all pretense of being neutral and above the fray. He’s also announced that he plans to attend just the first day of the multiple sessions. I guess he has more important things to do. The union has already denounced Stern’s comment that if a deal isn’t struck this week the season will be cancelled through Christmas as “arbitrary” and “random.” Billy Hunter went even further, referring to Stern’s deadline as a “strong-arm tactic.” The bottom line is that the player reps are likely walking into an ambush. The owners plan to present the exact same demands that are now well over a year old. The players union – after having been the only side willing to seek middle ground for months now – is under massive pressure to surrender. The longer the owners keep the doors locked, the greater the pressure becomes. With few notable exceptions, the owners can outlast the players because of the considerable revenue they have from their other business ventures. Stern and “his” owners have carefully set the stage in the past week and intend to walk into the meetings and hold a dagger to the union reps’ throats. Things have gotten to the point where the barrel the players are over is very large indeed, and the owners have every intention of driving that point home. It all comes down to resolve. Either the week will end with the players caving in to virtually every demand, or you might as well kiss this season goodbye. Either way, the group receiving the worst screwing will once again be the loyal fans of the sport. Until large numbers of us refuse to bring our patronage back to the NBA, this will always be the case. Our love for the home teams doesn’t go away easily. My plan is to invest in K-Y and any other personal lubricants. I have a feeling that sales are about to go through the roof.