What should have been the opening night of the NBA season passed by, as Chris Paul spent his time “Playing the Feud” instead of making no-look passes. It’s time for someone to give the NBA players the cold, hard facts. You will not win this battle — live to fight another day.
Just to be clear, on the facts the players are right. While many NBA players are overpaid, the true superstars are actually underpaid in relation to the value that they bring to their franchise. David Stern and the owners did a great job making this labor dispute about individual overpaid players specifically (highlighting legitimately indefensible contracts), rather than what it should have been about, the manner in which the owners run their franchises and derive benefit from them both on and off the court.
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NBA owners are not losing money because of how much they are paying the players, they are losing money because they hire bad people to make basketball decisions and refuse to implement a good profit sharing system. If owners are truly in bad financial shape than many of them overpaid for what is essentially a vanity prize. Before the lockout began the owners gave Stern his marching orders: “Break the union, rewrite the system to our benefit, and we are fine missing part of the season to reach this goal.” As an employee of the owners he’s done as they asked.
On the other side, the NBA Players Association (NBPA) leadership should be tried for malpractice they have screwed up this lock-out so badly. Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher basically left a symbolic scalpel inside the NBPA. In fairness to Hunter (the NBPA executive director) and Fisher (the NBPA president), they started this lock-out at a disadvantage that no other non-sports union has to deal with: a diverse membership where some players are making 40 times what other members are making, agents who would gladly knife them if given the chance, and an unsympathetic narrative on their side. However, none of that should have been a shock to Billy or Derek, since they knew all of that going in and didn’t prepare accordingly. I’ve discussed at length before the NBPA’s failures, but let’s just say they screwed up.
So now here we are: the players should start missing paychecks soon, the negotiations are at a standoff, games are being missed, Stern has managed to keep the owners unified (publicly at least) and the NBPA has turned into a circular firing squad. Hunter and Fisher should be working as a seamless team to win this fight but instead their PR flacks have been placing anonymously sourced stories attacking each other. If you want to know which NBA writers are easy shills for PR flacks just note which writers have devoted columns eviscerating Hunter or Fisher, while making the other look like a dutiful defender of the players. Note to NBA players: this is what the end of a failing political campaign looks like, all that’s missing is an unnamed NBPA source leaking that Fisher had an undocumented maid.
It gives me no pleasure to tell the players that it’s time to pack it in, but it is. For players who have an average career of about five years they can’t afford to miss even one year. It’s time to figure out an end game, make a deal you can live with, and call it a day. If this were an NBA game, Chuck Nevitt would be taking off his warm-up jacket. The players should agree to come down to 50 percent of basketball related income in exchange for wins on a number of smaller things, including keeping the length of this labor deal short (try having it expire in the middle of the season to give players leverage next time) to take advantage of the next TV deal. Live to fight another day.