After two years of negotiations, after 149 days of NBA lockout, after so many marathon negotiating sessions that we all lost track, the NBA reached a deal about 3 a.m. Saturday morning.
That’s great news, we were all sick of taking BRI and escrow and luxury taxes.
But after all that, why now?
Because the calendar became the real pressure.
That’s not what the sides were saying afterwards.
“The reason for the settlement is the fans, the players who would like to play, we’ve got others who are dependent on us,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern. “Our goal was to reach a deal that was fair to both sides and got us playing as soon as possible.”
“Rather than pursue this in court, it was in both of our interests to compromise,” said Billy Hunter of the NBA players association.
But this was more about the pressure of the calendar making it time to get a deal done.
Both sides had said from the start that they understood the momentum the league gained last season, with television ratings the highest they had been since the Jordan era as just one sign of that. There was a real energy to build off of — and to grow revenues.
And for a lot of more casual basketball fans, Christmas is when they start following the league. Christmas is the first day of national broadcast network games — it was like a second opening day with marquee matchups on a huge stage. Missing that was going to be a real blow.
Sources on both sides told us the pressure was really mounting to get a deal done. The players did not want to lose a season of salary ($2.2 billion), the owners did not want to lose a season of revenue (at a greatly increased rate from the last labor deal). Neither side wanted to deal with the damage of a complete lost season, or even most of one. Fans were clearly getting more and more restless and turning away.
What is the point of fighting over how to divide up the revenue pie if the pie itself gets smaller?
A sign of that pressure from the calendar was the fact cooler heads finally prevailed in these talks. Saturday the talks almost blew up again when players attorney Jeffrey Kessler — David Stern’s nemisis in these talks — was on a conference call and said the players demanded 51 percent of the revenues. Stern and Spurs owner Peter Holt rejected the idea fast. In the past, that might have ended the talks, but this time they stayed in the room and pounded out a deal.
With all that pressure, and a foundation laid by those months of negotiations, they reached a deal. A deal neither side really likes, which is how a good compromise turns out.
But getting it done was more about the timing than anything else.