Here we stand, the first two weeks of the NBA season lay in ruins at our feet. More rubble will be falling on top of that soon as you can bet those are not the last games canceled.
The real question becomes: How does this get resolved now? How do the owners and players finally come to a deal after two years of negotiations that led to where we stand today?
Sadly, the best answer is more talks.
Yes, more talks. The two sides have talked plenty, but we need to see talks with real compromise and good faith bargaining. Things we haven’t seen yet. That is how a deal gets done.
The loss of games has led to some to call for decertification of the union — the step the NFL union took by declaring it was not longer a union, just a trade association, then having players file anti-trust lawsuits against the league. The idea is that the threat of damages — and if a court did rule for the players on one of those lawsuits the damages would be immense — will scare the owners back to the table.
But if the union decertifies you can kiss this season goodbye. It is a nuclear option. Both sides should be nervous about how a court may rule, but the owners also know that the courts are slow and that it would take more than a year for any real ruling to come through, and that can be appealed. You think the players can hold out for more than a season? Decertification now sets the clock back on the talks.
Plus, this strategy might not even work for the NBA players — it didn’t for the NFL players union. They didn’t get a court ruling that helped them, they just negotiated a deal with their owners. Under very different economic circumstances.
The legal leverage the players union could use is a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board that the owners are not bargaining in good faith. The players filed a complaint and if the NLRB finds for the players a lawsuit to end the lockout could be filed. But the NLRB also grinds at the speed of a federal bureaucracy, so who knows when the body will rule. And when it does, who knows how it will rule. The players could gain leverage here, but it’s not something they can sit around and wait for (and the owners filed a similar complaint against the players for not negotiating in good faith).
No, the way this gets solved is both sides sit down and talk it out. I know that hasn’t worked yet, but it’s how things will get done. The owners need to come off their hardline and give up more “basketball related income” points and keep most of a free system that existed. The owner want both more money and radical system changes, that is too much. The players have given up $160 million a season in salary and will give up more, those are real dollars they had and sacrificed.
That said, the players need to sacrifice more. The players need to come off their 53 percent of BRI hardline and allow some issues — like a stiffer luxury tax — that will help small markets compete.
There is a real middle ground here that is not that hard to see — frankly most people around the NBA knew about where the percentages would land in a deal when the lockout started. But both sides are dug in, making the other want to realize how serious they have been. Make the other side feel the pain.
Only the fans are the ones feeling the pain. And the more they feel it, the less revenue the owners and players will have to divide up.
Until the owners and players sit down and negotiate in good faith (you really think they have?) nothing is going to happen. In the end, this will be settled because David Stern wants it to be and because he and Billy Hunter reach a deal. It’s on them, nobody else.