The circus returns to town — I mean, NBA owners reportedly will meet Thursday to discuss their next move in the NBA lockout.
For several reasons, it won’t be easy to get the owners to move quickly toward re-engaging the new leadership of the players. Many owners believed Stern had gone too far with the league’s final proposal to the union and were privately wishing for the players to reject the offer so they could thrust upon the players a far more rigid “reset” deal.
Also, Stern and many owners have such a visceral and personal disdain for players attorney Jeffrey Kessler, whom they blame for the breakdown in talks and eventual move toward the “disclaimer of interest” filing. Kessler drew the ire of Stern and the owners for saying the owners were treating the players like “plantation workers” in an interview with The Washington Post – a comment for which Kessler later apologized. Stern responded by saying Kessler “has been the single most divisive force in our negotiations” and by calling Kessler’s conduct “routinely despicable.”
It seems unlikely Stern and the owners will want to be viewed as being in such fear of the legal battle that they’re rushing back to swiftly cut a less favorable deal with the players.
Here’s one man’s prediction for the meeting:
David Stern enters the room. Half the owners sit quietly at their seats, prepared to take notes on Stern’s presentation. The other half sit in the back of the room, tossing paper airplanes at Stern and passing notes to coordinate a book drop at precisely 11:17.
“Calm down please gentleman,” Stern said. “A little quiet, if you –”
At that moment, just when he thinks he’s gaining a little momentum with his speech, Stern gets blasted by a chair and knocked out cold. Adam Silver does not see who threw the chair, but when he looks out at the owners, he notices Michael Jordan standing rather than sitting.
“I have a surprise for everybody,” Jordan begins, lifting a small briefcase from the floor. He opens the briefcase and, to everyone’s shock, a person unfolds his body and steps out. After a few seconds, Silver recognizes Craig Ehlo.
“This is proof of what happens to my opponents,” Jordan explains. “Whether it’s on the basketball court or anywhere else, ask Craig Ehlo: at some point, my opponents are bound by gravity but I just keep rising.”
“What happened in baseball, then?” Mark Cuban pipes up. “Hell, what’s happening with the Bobcats?”
“Yeah,” Wyc Grousbeck gets in on the action. “Nice Adam Morrison pick, man.”
Jordan glares at the defiant owners and continues.
“We should not give the players any more than a 12% BRI share. We should have a hard cap, and we should set it at $14 million. We should roll back 75% of all existing contracts. We should eliminate free agency entirely. We should contract the Lakers, Celtics, Knicks and Bulls, leaving only smaller markets. And we should name Charles Oakley NBA commissioner.”
Robert Sarver begins drooling at the other side of the room. Herb Kohl licks his lips. Dan Gilbert groans with pleasure. Paul Allen walks to Jordan’s side and crosses his arms, but does not say a word. It’s kind of creepy, actually.
But Cuban argues.
“Umm, Michael. We just got sued. Players are claiming we didn’t negotiate in good faith. And considering that 1) we didn’t make a single concession during the entire bargaining process, and 2) we made an ultimatum saying we were ready to negotiate backwards, I think they have a point. It’s a little too late to be talking about these crazy changes. Plus, don’t you have any sense of gratitude for the system that made you a star? Don’t you realize you’re alienating all the players who endorse your shoes? Don’t you realize how much your clothing line stands to lose from an extended NBA lockout?”
“Stern tried to tell me all that crap a few times,” says Jordan. “But damn it, I want a system where the Lakers cannot overpay for Steve Blake. I want a system where Jermaine O’Neal signs with a team under the cap, not the luxury-tax ridden Celtics. I want a system where I never have to see Kwame Brown again.”
“But there are studies showing that competitive balance in basketball has more to do with smart decisions than payrolls,” replies James Dolan. “Believe me, I know from experience.”
“Yeah, you do. But those Jerome James and Eddy Curry signings were real steals, James,” snickers Jerry Buss.
“Don’t you guys just want basketball?” Buss continues. “The NBA made more revenues last year than ever before. The 50-50 BRI split will give everyone at least a chance to break even. We’re prepared to increase revenue sharing to help teams in smaller markets. The players have made concessions across the board. Why don’t we just give every team a full goddamn mid-level exception so we can get this season started?”
“You would say that, Buss,” says Glen Taylor. “Your team just signed a $550 gazillion local TV deal. You try operating in Minnesota rather than Los Angeles.”
“At least I wouldn’t have hired Kahn.”
“But guys,” Cuban reenters the conversation. “We’re losing fans. The NBA was more popular than ever last year. We have three layers of superstars — the aging ones on their way out, the in-their-prime ones clawing for championships, and the blossoming ones still improving every season. Do we really want to risk all the progress the league has made?”
“Well, when you put it like that…,” says Taylor.
“Don’t we just want to make a few minor concessions and finally end this lockout, rather than allow the courts to handle the negotiation for us, which could take years? Don’t we just want basketball to return?” Cuban prods once more.
Only one verbal response comes.
“Nope. 12% BRI split. That’s my final offer.”