David Stern is a fire-breathing, laser-staring, swirly-giving bully. NBA agents are the Little Giants coaching staff, watching Spike run straight at their players with his knees high, a touchdown almost inevitable, yet urging the players to tackle Spike for a loss of yardage. Billy Hunter is portrayed as a shopping cart, pushed around at ease, following Stern whatever direction he goes.
The winners in the latest developments? Nobody. The NBA is on the verge of mass hysteria if a deal does not get reached today. Certain powerful agents have written a letter urging their players not to accept a deal that changes the current CBA system at all, and the letter might even tell players not to accept less than 57% BRI (though Sam Amick reported otherwise), a number that seems impossible. Union decertification could be the next step. Agents want Hunter out. Derek Fisher is begging players not to listen to agents. And David Stern is dragging his own reputation through the mud, a ruthless negotiator who will stop at nothing, a fierce opponent who always wins during collective bargaining, the big, bad bully who threatens to swing a wrecking ball directly into all the progress his league has made.
Take a step back and look at this rationally. Owners, many of whom are billionaires, are holding out for hundreds of millions of dollars more. Players, all of whom made at least $473,604 last season (the minimum rookie salary) to play a sport, don’t want to become “underpaid.” The NBA’s most powerful agents are advising their clients that “it is not about when or how fast a deal is reached, it is about taking the time to secure the best deal.” Forget about the season. Forget that everyone involved already makes millions of dollars. Fair is fair, people.
It’s okay to vomit.
The best deal will only come if Stern relents. Owners are currently taking a ludicrous stance, especially when it comes to BRI. They are asking players to accept a 46% share (an 11% decrease from last season); they might as well ask the players to douse themselves in kerosene and then light themselves on fire. But simply, owners have all the leverage in these discussions. The players have already conceded mostly everything the owners want. Now the owners are winning by 30 points but still applying the full-court press, still throwing elbows and arguing every referee’s call.
Are we supposed to believe Stern will back off? He’s a pitbull known for latching on with his jaws of steel and refusing to break away until blood spouts from the players’ wounds. He’s ferocious on the bargaining table, as well respected — and loathed — as anybody associated with the NBA. He does not kindly let opponents tap out. He continues to apply submission holds until his opponents can no longer breathe. Everything about his past says Stern will keep twisting a wet towel until every last drop falls out of it.
And yet, if the NBA wants its season to start on time, if the league wants to build on the progress it made last season rather than watch everything fall down like a Jenga tower, Stern needs to back off. Despite holding all the leverage, despite his reputation as a killer, Stern needs to give the players a bone. If he does not, negotiations will be replaced by a tornado of discontent. Agents will clamor for revolution. Hunter will be scorned for his apparent weakness and likely ousted from his position. The negotiations will likely move to the court system, and the NBA season will look further away than ever.
Imagine, it has come to this: the NBA’s best hope is for David Stern to throw Billy Hunter a life preserver.
I wouldn’t hold your breath.