When NBA labor talks broke down 17 days ago, the owners blamed it on Kevin Garnett. And Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce, but mostly KG and his legendary glare. The two sides had been making progress in talks, but those three NBA stars came in and drew a hard line at 53 percent of basketball related income (BRI). Those three represented the hardliners driving the bus for the players, and they crashed the talks.
Thursday labor talks broke down and the players’ union blamed it on Blazers owner Paul Allen and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert (on orders from the hardliners at the NBA Board of Governors meeting). The sides had been making progress in talks the last three days, but those two NBA owners came in and drew a hard line at a 50/50 split of BRI. Those were the hardliners driving the bus for the owners, and they crashed the talks.
We — and by we I mean NBA fans and much of the media that covers it — thought the NBA lockout would have come to a resolution by now because, while the hardliners ruled the summer, cooler heads would emerge in the fall. The smart people in the room would not get emotional, they would get a deal done. The majority on both sides were not stupid enough to cost weeks of games, were not stupid enough to kill the momentum built up last season for a couple of percentage points.
We were wrong.
We were wrong because hardliners on both sides are driving the bus. When was the last time something good happened when hardliners were running the show?
This is particularly true on the owners’ side — they blew up this latest progress after they got together and talked as a group last Wednesday and Thursday. Hardliners represent at least a large enough majority on both sides right now all that we see is a couple days of meetings, then the two sides get pissed at each other, storm out of the room and don’t talk for a few days. Well, they talk to the media — as if either side could win the PR war — but not to each other. The NFL owners and union met for 16 straight days to get a deal done; the three days this week were the most the NBA owners and players have met in two years of talks.
Right now, both sides are convinced the hardliners on the other side will crack first. It’s a stupid game of chicken nobody is winning. Nobody.
But to them it is about winning, and it’s about the money that comes with winning. It is about greed. Especially from the owners, who want more profits from the games in their stadiums often built with public funds. The owners have Gilbert saying the players need to “trust him.” Does anybody trust a guy who made his money giving away mortgage loans like candy during the real estate boom?
The owners (both sides, but particularly the owners) want to win so badly and get that money that they are willing to shrink the pie they are fighting to divide up. They are throwing away the salaries and revenue that would flow from games that are now canceled.
They are willing to alienate fans who will be slow to come back — read the comments on this site and others and you will see casual fans who are disgusted. The hardcore fans will come back. The more casual sports fan will grow more and more apathetic and it will be harder and harder to get them to return.
The talks are going to keep crashing so long as the hardliners are driving the bus. And we may see a lot more crashes before the two sides cross the finish line.