OK, the headline’s a bit misleading. The owners are the real problem for the players in this fight. Not that they want something the players don’t, but that they want everything. I made the comparison earlier this week on Memphis radio that this is the equivalent of the geek throwing the jock up against the locker and shaking him down for his lunch money. That’s pretty accurate. There’s no “bargaining” going on here, just extortion. You may think the owners have every right to do this to their employees, and that’s fine. We can have that argument later.
But beyond the owners’ Biff-ness is a secondary problem which has been apparent since the beginning and which Sam Amick of SI.com touched on Friday night.
This has been an ongoing theme throughout this process. Decertification is a legal tactic any which way you slice it, but the origins of it within the context of this labor dispute aren’t just about putting pressure on the players with lawsuits (which will not, let’s be clear, in any way shape or form, actually ever work out to favor the players, the threat is all that matters). The origin is with players unrest. And it’s not just from those who hate the NBA’s tactics and want to blow them out of the sky. Players have expressed displeasure with the fact that there hasn’t been enough caucusing of the membership. You want to know the real reason there’s not going to be a vote on Monday of all membership? Because no one’s asking to have one.
Who’s fault is that?
Everyone’s. Not just Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher, and not just the hardliners like Paul Pierce. Everyone. No one is taking responsbiliy for the union to be on the same page.
The league’s a lot different. Each team has a leader, and the league has two. You have 32 people who need to be on the same page. Even the owners who aren’t involved in this know their interests are represented by someone else. But the players have 450 members, plus Hunter. Plus the agents, no matter how messed up this may be, need a seat at the table. They have too much invested, and the players in them. But no one has gotten out in front and said “We need to communicate better with the players about what’s actually going on.”
There are going to be allegations that the reason union leadership doesn’t want the players educated is because they might realize how badly the union’s been hammered in talks. You can actually understand it from the Exec Committee’s standpoint. You never had leverage and are expected to beat back the Kraken that’s tearing down your house, armed with nothing and yet also expected to calmly soothe it back into the ocean so you don’t lose a season. There’s no way to convince the players you’re doing well if you’re losing at every turn. It’s hard to explain to anyone that they have no leverage and that this is really all about determining how much they will lose.
But still there hasn’t been enough. And it should have been both ways. “Yes, we’re giving up the money. But we’re not losing guaranteed contracts. We’re not getting a hard cap. We’ve saved these elements, but we’re losing these. You have to decide what is most important to you.”
But it’s not all on them. Because the players don’t want to try and understand these concepts, not enough of them. Get into a conversation on Twitter with a player and you’re going to hear the same talking points over and over again. “We’ve given up $3 billion over ten years!” and “We’ve made concession after concession!” The same things. But you wonder how much they know about the details. About what they mean and what the alternatives are. The players should be beating down Derek Fisher’s phone, should be in New York in meetings while the meetings are going on. If this fight is important enough for them to lose the entire season over, they should be getting minute-by-minute updates. In this day and age of technology, there’s no excuse.
There’s been talk that the players aren’t smart enough to understand this stuff. I think that’s ridiculous. You don’t need a graduate degree in economics to understand how the MLE works, how player movement works, what Bird rights are. You just have to have it explained to you the right way. This means everything to them, it’s their livelihood, the game they’ve dedicated thousands of hours of their life to.
And now they’re on a cliff that ends with everyone involved from owners to agents to players to teams to fans being damaged. The league put them on that cliff, but the NBPA failed to build themselves a ladder off it.