The courts are not going to solve the NBA lockout.
That’s where the process is headed after the union started taking steps to abandon its right to negotiate for the players. Anti-trust lawsuits will follow. Along with plenty of heated rhetoric from both sides.
Yet, only one thing can save part of an NBA season at this point — rational people resuming negotiations, something we have yet to see much of from either side. Still, that is the only hope for fans who want a 2011-12 NBA season.
It could happen; there are plenty of smart people who have predicted these talks would come down to the first week in January and the drop-dead date for a season to take place — just like happened in 1999. And some kind of season would be saved, just like then. It’s just hard to be even that optimistic right now.
League commissioner David Stern is right that the players’ plan to decertify the union, followed by anti-trust lawsuits against the league, is more negotiating tactic than long-term play. It certainly is all about leverage in negotiations, unless you think the players are willing to miss not only this season but the next one (and maybe the one after that) to take its anti-trust efforts all the way through the courts to a ruling (they are not). That’s more than $4 billion in lost player salary not to mention the legal fees. No way the players will push it that far.
This is a grab by the players at temporary leverage in the negotiations. They have felt powerless, backed into a corner with offers they didn’t like and ultimatums from Stern, so they finally reached for the one big weapon they had.
What happens now? Nobody knows. Not really. The goal of the union’s moves today was to throw uncertainty into the system, and it has done that. We know there will be anti-trust lawsuits, we know the sides will sling verbal arrows at each other, but after that this is unpredictable.
Except that again, at some point, the owners and players will have to talk and negotiate a deal.
This decertification process is basically what the NFL union did — however, the narrow rulings in that case don’t give us much of a picture for how the efforts will fare in the NBA. But in the end, the NFL is playing right now because its owners and players hammered out a deal at the negotiating table.
It’s the same for the NBA— this will be a negotiated settlement when all is said and done. The difference is NFL owners and players seemed more willing to compromise to make a deal (particularly the owners who do turn a profit in the NFL).
Right now no talks are scheduled and you can bet it will be weeks (at least) before the sides talk again. If when those talks start the owners stick with Stern’s promise to use a “reset” offer that gives the players less money and to put in a hard salary cap, then those talks were going nowhere.
But if the sides can negotiate from where they left off in their latest talks, they are fully capable of making a deal. They are not that far apart. There are philosophical and systematic issues, but they are solvable.
We just need some rationality. At some point. From somewhere. Anywhere.