The NBA lockout is in a dangerous place, approaching the edge of a cliff on a dark road with no headlights. Hardline owners are huffing and puffing and saying they’re going to blow the entire house down. The players union is looking into whether decertification is a legitimate option. Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher may or may not have trust issues. David Stern may or may not control his camp. The negotiations seemingly teeter on a precipice, just a few percentage points from reaching a deal, but also a few more failed negotiating sessions from potentially losing a major chunk of the 2011-12 season.
Michael Jordan was outed Friday as the leader of the hardline owners. While that likely surprised some people — after all, Jordan was the one who famously told former Washington Wizards owner Abe Polin, “If you can’t make a profit, you should sell your team” — this is Michael Jordan, people. If pushing his grandmother down a set of stairs would help Jordan win (and assuredly he views this — like he views everything else — as a competition), goddamnit, Michael Jordan’s going to shove his grandmother down a set of stairs.
Jordan’s stance is hypocritical, indeed. Without a favorable collective bargaining agreement for the players, Jordan never would have accrued his wealth. Without the endorsement of today’s players, Jordan’s clothing line would not continue to net him a fortune. He should feel indebted to today’s players and to the collective bargaining agreement of yesteryear. Instead, he aims to level the playing field for the Charlotte Bobcats. (Insert any version of “maybe he just shouldn’t draft the likes of Adam Morrison” jokes here.) But really, this is Michael Jordan. If you thought he would ever bow down meekly, no matter who the opponent or what the game (and again, he absolutely views this as a competition), you probably haven’t been paying attention the last thirty years.
In the other corner are the players, some of whom — organized by Paul Pierce — engaged in a conference call with an attorney to see what negotiating options are available. Ray Allen said the players discussed a number of topics to see what direction they can turn if the negotiations continue to stall, but a large portion of the conversation reportedly hinged on decertification, an option which could lead to semi-anarchy, scaring the living bejesus out of every party involved. Decertification could lead to a long legal battle which could threaten this year if not next, or it could be just the threat necessary to hasten the owners into making a deal.
On a more Celtics-centric level is the continued maturation of Paul Pierce. Just seven or eight years ago, Pierce was known as an immature, whiny brat, a supremely talented scorer, questionable teammate and occasionally dim-witted decision maker who could sometimes be difficult to coach. Now, he’s organizing conference calls so players can become more educated regarding the options the players association can use going forward. I’ve mentioned this before, but we have been extremely lucky to watch Pierce’s growth, from that young, immature kid who wore a towel on his head to certain press conferences into the elder statesmen taking matters into his own hands to inform his peers. According to Ray Allen, Pierce wasn’t going behind the backs of union leaders. He just wanted to ensure that players had the opportunity to educate themselves about potentially forthcoming decisions that could influence their futures.
With the threat of decertification stronger than ever and a group of hardline owners digging their toes in the sand (likely outside their beautiful beach houses), Chris Sheridan is one of few reporters who does not seem worried that an NBA Armageddon could be approaching. Rather, Sheridan is “calling bullshit” on the hardline owners.
Jordan is on the other side of the table now, and it is beyond a little bit suspicious that he is now suddenly being portrayed as the leader of a ruthless ownership faction that is dictating the negotiating strategy of commissioner David Stern. These owners, we are being asked to believe, would rather shut down their sport at the height of its global growth spurt than meet somewhere in the middle on the split of revenues.
I am calling bullshit on them. This is a con, and all it is meant to do is put pressure on union negotiators to take the league’s “best and final offer” (actually, those words have yet to come out of Stern’s mouth) when that type of offer is put on the table today (or tomorrow, or Monday) with federal mediator George Cohen overseeing the proceedings.
As steady, intelligent thinkers have stated all along, a deal is there for the taking. The sides are too close economically to continue this steel cage match, especially considering that many of the pressing system issues have already been resolved. Rationally, the sides would meet in the middle on money issues and the NBA would resume play shortly.
But Ken Berger worries there’s nothing rational about these negotiators.
But no matter how the leverage shifts, no matter what legal maneuvers are executed, you know what happens? Eventually, the same parties will have to wind up back in a room to negotiate this agreement if they intend for the NBA to continue to exist.
The agreement is there to be negotiated now. The deal is there to be made. And the alternatives should be too frightening for anyone any longer to be so irresponsible as to wave a match in this roomful of noxious fumes.
What’s more frightening? This motley crew of bitter, disaffected agents and hardline owners have, in a bizarre way, joined forces. Every time these talks have reached a moment of truth, they’ve chosen chaos over reason, destruction over compromise, nuclear war over handshakes.
What makes this moment any different? Nothing, I’m sorry to say. Not a thing.
This weekend’s discussions could bring progress, and the NBA season could shortly stop being a distant illusion. Either that, or all the tough-guy, hard-ass rhetoric continues to rule the day, one side walks out on the other, and the league once again passes on a resolution that’s staring Billy Hunter and David Stern straight in the face.