Owners, Union: Make Your Move

It is fascinating how quickly this lockout has turned into a loose form of reality television. The allure of instant gratification, by-the-second news, spectacularly ridiculous hyperbole, over analysis and individual thought have turned this negotiation into a glorified horse and pony circus. The way information is collected now allows the curious to all but follow a specific ‘thought’ of an individual, right or wrong, which spirals out of control and hits the masses with the push of button. Currently, the tone of the lockout talks is gauged by the size of David Stern’s smile, or the tone of his deep New York City drawl. And if he says there is “no progress” then there must ACTUALLY be progress because his eyes were shifty when he said it, so it must be a smokescreen, a PR game or an outright lie because Billy Hunter overheard Adam Silver on his cell phone allegedly talking to an economist about a negotiating tactic and he uttered the words “50%” which was in turn was revealed through an agent’s mistress as the next step in negotiations and was later refuted by the NBA League Attorney as “totally false, and simply the discount Silver wanted on the Bargaining Committee’s Papa Johns order that was 45 minutes late.”

Meanwhile in Boise, Idaho someone’s head just exploded.

At times modern media has become analogous to a gossiping group of high school cheerleaders with the degree of undivided attention to drama, lies, scandals and speculation over a few percentage points and whether or not we can watch 10 giant men throw a rubber ball through a ring next month. Bickering aunts and familial gossip be damned. Yet, it is consumed religiously.

The dramatization of the labor negotiation is centered around, amongst other things, a revenue split of basketball related income (BRI) between millionaires and billionaires (pick a side!). It has suddenly turned into a topic worth refreshing a twitter feed every hour to see which reporter is leaking the latest sourced, yet intentionally spun, overdramatic or hyperbolized (one prominent writer’s latest contained the words/phrases: Bloodied, bruised, beaten, boogeyman, windmill dunks, blockbuster barnstorming tours, stunned, ‘blink for the Emperor,’ bury the bodies… and that’s just after 1 skim) biased piece of rhetoric that offers fans just a glistening bit of hope we will see basketball this Fall. (Oh wait, it’s already Fall). We eat up even the most transparent of pieces, whether it’s a leaked letter from NBPA President Derek Fisher to his Union, or a similarly crafted letter from the agents to the players overflowing with political, ‘what about me?’ implications.



Let’s take a Stanley Roberts-sized step back and consider the revenue split.  Through the end of the 2011 season the BRI split was 57% players, 43% owners. So take that as your current starting point. One question comes to mind: is the pre-lockout split even fair to begin with? Arguably, as it was once agreed to and not a pie-in-the-sky number. But didn’t the NFL players union just agree to 48%, and they still don’t have guaranteed deals? Trickling down the issue totem pole, what about the players seemingly refusing to concede on core issues that have plagued the league and caused far too many “money-saving” trades over the past 10 years? Look, the players can afford to give a little here in hopes for a season. If not, the paycuts will happen anyways. Very soon.

This loosely reminds me of something I am going through right now. Since you asked, I play in a band currently on the verge of releasing a self-funded and produced album that I can say with full confidence will outsell former Timberwolf Troy Hudson’s debut album if it hasn’t already. Amongst the discussions that occur throughout the process is a ‘split’ of our ‘published earnings’ (which, for a band of our stature is probably a little less than $4 billion). By published earnings, this means electronic sales, Pandora/XM Radio plays and in general song rights not directly tied to actual album sales. The question is, who ‘owns’ the song among the 4 band members? It sounds easy at first, but it becomes complicated and several questions are raised: Does the lead singer deserve 100% for writing the lyrics? Does the lead guitarist deserve a higher percentage because he wrote the melody and structure that the song was built upon? Does the drummer (me) get a share for laying the foundation, beat, and making changes to the structure? What defines “the song?’ Is it just the lyrics? The final product? Just the guitar? It becomes complicated. But the key point is it certainly has nothing to do with our listener(s). 

Where the analogy is drawn is that, like in the NBA, it becomes a chicken vs. egg scenario that in the end is not about the fans. Does the player deserve more money than ownership for being the main attraction, or is it the owner for funding the teams we follow so closely? As the agents suggested in their letter (linked here), should the owners’ secondary income opportunities through franchise-ownership be factored in? On the contrary, why wouldn’t endorsements (often times the bulk of a player’s income) ‘count’ for players? And from there stem a million other questions that no reasonable Armchair Bargaining Committee Member can possibly keep track of, understand, nor answer; so the scathing, often one-sided rhetoric get’s thrown onto the wall in an attempt to stick.  

The time to pick sides has come and gone. When you peel back the onion, this is a battle about which side is more greedy. The owners are probably ‘greedier.’ They are asking for more than they deserve. The players don’t seem to grasp that their system is a God-send and may have to change. Forced change is difficult. The agents are lingering like a pack of Rottweillers, ready to harm everyone for a piece of steak for themselves.

It boils down to this unorganized and unfocused collection of points:

1. The owners have no chance of their current proposal being ratified or agreed to by the players in a voting situation. None. A 46% split of BRI is an instant, massive pay cut to the players that is entirely unjust despite documented accounts that the league has never been more profitable. This is simply unrealistic no matter how big each team’s market size is (here’s looking at you Union Committee President and 13th Hour Negotiator Glen Taylor).

2. The player’s system, despite becoming more strict in the last 12+ years, is no longer sustainable or healthy. It is also punishing to the fans who have to sit through their teams gifting away talent for middle-tier draft picks at best just to shed a questionable deal (that, of course, Mr. Owner agreed to). Those who are taking more of an anti-owner position need to realize the system was a chief sticking point to recent progress, and that should be equally as upsetting as the owner’s admittedly ludicrous demands.

3. Let’s for now hypothetically assume 52% ends up being the ‘best offer’ for a split Tuesday. According to this letter from the agents sent Monday (link again here), this amounts to an average giveback of $500,000 per player per year under the new CBA. This is unfortunate/unjust, but welcome to America in the past five years. Consider losing a whole season under current contracts with no split change agreed to, or an average of $5.5 million per player (current approx league average). Which is worse? We are talking about a $500,000 annual loss that would take 11 years or nearly 3 TIMES the average player career length to simply equal the average loss of a single season. And the ‘best’ part? The players will likely have to agree to a deeper BRI concession no matter how many games are missed, and will lose even more money. If you can get 52% or even 50%, take it and run. However, it seems reasonable to assume the Bargaining Committee just might be aware of this. But, you never know.

4. For every Eddy Curry contract there are probably 2-3+ good/fair contracts. However, it would seem the ‘bad contract protection’ take is a bit overblown and more or less a non-issue as it pertains to the negotiation. Otherwise non-guaranteed deals would have been at least mentioned once as a sticking point throughout this process.

5. (Insert some self-serving bar-room math about Revenue Sharing as it ties to the BRI split here)

6. A soft stance from the owners on a hard cap in exchange for a steeper luxury tax affecting the players is as fair of a compromise as it gets.

7. Perhaps most importantly, as fans, our opinions mean nothing. Many concentrate on arguing a side but the reality is, nothing is getting done. Forest vs. Trees. 

So how about, for starters on Tuesday, inching towards an agreement that makes the other side say “gee, maybe we could do that?” Why is this so hard? Is this really an extended game of poker where no one is making a single play and trying their damndest to keep a straight face until the last possible second? Followers of this incredibly dry, yet intruiging, chain of events should certainly hope so.

Both sides would be foolish to stand hard on Tuesday. It is admirable the Union has made few concessions for the unjust position they are in, but they have milked it for all its worth. Time to move. Yesterday. The second the games are missed is the moment the indirect paycuts start to occur, the agents lunge, both sides get stuck to the toilet and us loyal supporters are left watching riveting ESPN Classic games from 1968 on opening night. 

Not one person wins. Except for the bartender at a hotel in Upper East Side, NY pouring shots of scotch for the big-wigs who couldn’t get it done.


About wallyworld

Mike has been writing for TWB as a hobby since the Kahn era, and currently resides in a Dallas suburb where he can often be heard loudly arguing with his neighbors about his strong dislike for JJ Barea. When not working, Mike enjoys playing the drums and pretending to like other sports.