David Stern is winning the war of public perception.
Regular readers here know how I assign blame for the lockout and missed games, but make no mistake that in the court of public opinion the players are going to be the big losers. We know the players, while the owners are faceless (save Mark Cuban). We know exactly what the players make, and we know we would play basketball for a living for a fraction of that. The “let us play” PR disaster didn’t help matters, but the fact is the players were going to lose the perception battle.
In the last 24 hours David Stern has been on a media tour and gone on the offensive, painting the owners as a completely fair minded group who are stunned that the players don’t want to agree to their terms.
It’s all spin — just as union chief Billy Hunter’s media blitz was — but Stern is better at it. He cherry picks facts, but can do it in a way that he sounds more reasonable than the owners actually have been. Like what he said on the Dan Patrick Show (as transcribed at CSNChicago.com).
I would say that given the fact that the owners have made concessions to the players on no hard cap, on actually keeping all contracts in place that are in place — to pay them out in their entirety — that the players have asked for the continuation of guaranteed contracts and the owners have agreed to that, and that the owners have said, ‘If you don’t like the deal, you can opt out after seven years.’ I think the players — if the rank-and-file — truly understood the dynamics of the negotiations, they would have a completely different picture and they would say, ‘Let’s get back to work.’
“They don’t have anything that the owners want. The old deal expired. There’s no continuing deal. There was a 57-percent deal and if the owners wanted to continue that deal, they could have exercised their one-year option that they had to extend it. But given the fact that the owners believe that the league should be more competitive and that teams should have an opportunity to make a profit, and there should be ways to eliminate the loss that the league has suffered, in order to use those profits to have more revenue sharing, that we needed a new and different deal.”
This gets at the heart of the disagreement right now — the players started their position based on the old labor deal as a base; the owners did not consider that a starting point and made their own starting point with radical demands like rolling back existing contracts (good luck getting the courts to okay that after agents sued) and an NFL-style hard salary cap. That’s what makes Stern great, he sounds very reasonable talking about all the things the owners have given back in these talks. Even though the owners make up that starting point out of whole cloth and gave up things they never had in the first place.
The biggest story out of the media blitz was Stern saying that if there is not a deal by Tuesday he thinks Christmas Day games are in trouble. But here are a few other things he said in the last 24 hours.
• From NBA TV: “When you spend the amounts of monies these franchises now cost and the losses pile up because player salaries have gone from the $1 billion we were arguing about in 1999 to $2 billion-plus, I’m not going to say, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t be make a profit.’”
That for the record is complete spin and, frankly, organic male cow produced fertilizer. The amount of salaries the players got doubled because revenue to the league doubled — player salaries were a set percent of league revenues (57 percent at the end) because the owners agreed to that deal. Go ahead and argue that 57 percent is too high, that’s a valid argument, but to say that players salaries doubling was the problem without noting the doubling of league revenues the players didn’t get is misleading. At best.
• In multiple interviews, Stern said that the it was the players legal council (Jeffrey Kessler) was the first to propose the idea of a 50/50 split of basketball related income.
Two quick thoughts. First, the split is only half the question, the other half is how you define the revenue. If you take more expenses off the top (which the owners have proposed) then it is not a true 50/50 split. Secondly, who cares who proposed it if both sides are backing away from the idea anyway?
• Stern talked about teams being able to spread out the contract of a player they waive for non-performance to double its length. I, frankly, like this idea. For example, let’s use Gilbert Arenas and the three years, $63 million he has left on his deal. Under this proposal, if the Magic waived him they would have him on the books for six years at $10.5 million a year rather than three years at $21 million a year. For a lot of teams dealing with guys like Eddy Curry, this is a good way to get rid of him yet lessen the financial blow to the team.
• He also talked about allowing teams to offer one player under contract a special five-year deal that is substantially larger than what other teams can offer. The idea is to give teams a way to retain their stars — if you leave you are going to get considerably less money. It’s a virtual franchise tag.