You hope David Stern (above) followed the NFL's labor negotiations, and took notes.
With the NFL labor deal all but wrapped up—some reports project football being back in business July 15, others by week's end—our collective disinterest shifts to the NBA's collective bargaining negotiations. Nobody cares how, but some 15 Nielsen rating's worth of fans (the turnout for these NBA finals) want their basketball.
Here's how they can get it.
There's a lot to be learned from the NFL lockout. Considering how it looked (scrapping the entire season once seemed likely) and where it's come (expectations are a full schedule, regular and preseason), the NBA should take pointers.
This might be business, but half of those negotiating aren't businessmen. They're players. The NBA needs to remember that.
I spent an entire column outlining why simplifying the collective bargaining agreement proposal was huge in NFL negotiations, so I'll keep this brief.
It made it easier on players and owners, who better understood what the deal would mean for them. Lots of money changing hands here. Sides wanted to know who got what, what that was, and why.
You could argue it brought back the fans (at least marginally), too. I'm not saying the common man ate up the latest proposal, but the league gave itself its best chance at reeling fans back with dumbed—down terms.
If nothing else, that it helped get this deal close to done left its mark—however unconscious, on fans anyway.
The latest NBA proposal had the same trickiness as early NFL proposals, rife with "all revenue" vs. "total revenue"—the difference between all operating income and what's left after deductions for owners—and percent shares of varying pots. Some components were radical, but still fundamentally simple, like guaranteed contracts, hard vs. soft salary caps, and others.
Come on, people. Don't make this harder on yourselves than need be.
Roger Goodell (above) was the model leader during the NFL lockout, staying humble and putting fans first.
People might not understand the nuances of contract law, but they get people. Even if the words fly over their heads during the slew of lockout press conferences, fans will pay attention to non-verbals: body language, tone, and expressions.
Basically everything that made NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seem like a bro, and NBA Commissioner David Stern boorish.
So far, Stern has been nothing but arrogant. He's belittled players' goals on The Herd with Colin Cowherd's airwaves. He went hard—ass during the NBA Finals on ESPN Radio, blaming the other side for the scenario altogether.
In other words, Stern has been as charismatic as a Nazi zombie.
Goodell went the other way. From day one, he played to fan affections, reducing his salary to $1 (with bonuses, he would net $11.2 million annually), phoning a Denver blogger, and mass emailing anyone in his database at the stroke of the lockout.
Another way to put it, Goodell played his cards right.
David Stern (left) gave Derrick Rose (right) the MVP trophy on a time schedule. He and union head Billy Hunter should treat CBA negotiations with the same urgency.
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are to mega—rich guys, mostly for their work on the Freakonomics series, two books about people and incentives. In a nutshell, people respond to what they really want—or really need.
That's how sides treated this NFL lockout: they worked once they had to.
For months—years, you could argue—nothing was accomplished. Sides more than once stormed out of meeting rooms over self—imposed gag orders, drafted offers, and counter offers more designed to puff out chests than to prevent a lockout.
Early on, anyway.
Leading up to the first deadline on March 3, owners and players buckled down and met $400 million closer to halfway than before. Talks had been so promising they put the CBA on a week's worth of life support to try and strike a deal.
Even if it was a ploy, that they cared enough about appearances showed sides treated it much more seriously. Now, with speculation about informal deadlines needed to keep schedules intact, players and owners rolled up their sleeves again.
The NBA should map out everything that needs to be accomplished in the CBA, divide it into bite—sized parts, and set deadlines. Figure out max contracts by 'x' date. Finish tweaking the salary cap before 'y' date.
Working like that defines and prioritizes items, bottlenecks everyone's focus on the same topic at the same time (saving the waste from jumping around), and lets them track progress. Assuming, of course, there is progress.
If Kobe Bryant (above) and others wanted to organize and file an anti-trust suit against the NBA like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees did, they could set the wheels in motion that fold the league--something the NFL class-action suit risks.
Aside from radiating white noise fans don't want to hear anything about, litigation is a headache.
Think of all the confusion that the NFL lockout being in the courts has caused. The progression went something like this: lockout, injunction, stay, appeal, and so on. If nothing else, that drained players and owners of invaluable energy—all of which could have been focused on constructive negotiation.
Remember, the courts didn't make this happen (if anything, lawyers were the biggest impediment). Both Sides' willingness to cooperate and negotiate did.
Arguing that the implication of it being wrapped up in the courts mattered holds water. Sides had to demonstrate their seriousness and dedication before any real progress could have been made—as I said on the last slide, urgency matters.
But sides shouldn't have defaulted to filing suits—especially not with the antitrust lawsuit. ESPN's Sal Paolantonio told 97.5 The Fanatic (Philadelphia ESPN affiliate) that if players were to go forward with that suit in September—legal action they couldn't stop or back out of once filed—damages would top $27 billion (not a misprint).
In other words, there wouldn't be an NFL anymore. Talk about a kamikaze mission to win the battle, and purposely lose the war.
Heed those warnings, NBA.
We're not sure which of these men NFL union head DeMaurice Smith (left, grey suit) famously and humorously ordered to 'stand down.' But NBA union leader Billy Hunter needs to reel in loose-lipped lawyers, as does Commissioner David Stern any rogue owners.
Nobody wants to hear multi—billionaires whine. And unless it's boxing, nobody wants to hear them talk trash—especially not the overly flowery, sophisticated, and refined jabs sides took at each other during NFL negotiations.
Of all the 'contentious' gabbing in the media, this seemed the most ridiculous, compliments of current executive director of the former players union, DeMaurice Smith.
"“Nobody gets strong without fighting,” he told The New York Times. “Nobody stays strong without fighting. Nobody negotiates their way to strength. Nobody talks their way to a good deal. Nobody sits down and just has miraculous things happen.”
Not only is it unconstructive—nothing progressed until the sides self—imposed gag orders on divulging details (and opinions about details) to the media—but it's as self—effacing as if Auburn had poisoned its own oak trees. Talking like that didn't scare anybody, unless somebody's afraid of their own cackling.
Save for a few choice words from Tracy McGrady, the players have kept relatively quiet. Now if only someone can reel in Commissioner David Stern's tongue...
If Tracy McGrady (center, white jersey) is the only one from either side to shoot off his mouth to the media, negotations should run smoothly.
Throughout this ordeal, you knew there had to be an egomaniac, a power trip, or somebody who just liked the sound of his own voice too much...that's why you blog.
Whatever the case, whether it was talking too boldly, freely, or often, both sides had trouble keeping their own under control. That's why talks stagnated for so long. Nobody could get anything done.
That's why owners turned to secret meetings to make serious headway and put some things on paper. Looking back, that was likely to keep out two parties, the Bengals and Bills ownership—the only ones burned by the terms of the current proposed agreement. The salary floor makes it tough for these hypersmall market clubs, especially one like Cincinnati, number 122 of 122 in ESPN's recent franchise rankings. And lawyers, who reportedly were so unruly, DeMaurice Smith made like Samuel L. Jackson in Rules of Engagement and told them famously (and humorously) to "stand down."
The NBA needs to make sure it's got a handle on everyone. Having a big personality is good, especially when addressing the media, should good—intentioned talks fall through. But assertiveness has diminishing returns—in this case, cluttering discussions and straining relations.
If the NBA can make it happen, it needs to ensure its next CBA doesn't expire before that year's NBA draft, a scenario that cost the NFL an estimated 1 million viewers because of limited player trades.
This slide comes last because it's not integral to reaching a labor deal. Millions of dollars hang in the balance, but it shouldn't be considered a stumbling block. It's a throw—in, an asterisk, a last—second consideration at best.
But had its draft fallen during an active CBA like it does for the NBA, green—lighting transactions and player trades for Thursday's draft, the NFL Draft might not have plummeted.
There were a lot of contributing factors in the league losing an estimated 1 million viewers this past April. For one, the first round was broadcast on a Thursday night. Being in prime time put the start time well after white-collar America made it to their La-Z-Boys, but that might've contributed—as could've the thought of three whole days of Keyshawn Johnson.
But one of the biggest knocks on the draft was that players couldn't move. Teams couldn't deal. We couldn't marvel at Bill Belichick and Ozzie Newsome sliding up and down the draft board with America's Best Dance Crew precision. And we couldn't roll over at the Andy Reid/Howie Roseman tandem miserably failing to emulate it.
If they can spare it, finagle it, or by some other means make it happen, the NBA should pull for the expiring year's draft to come before its collective bargaining agreement ends.
Trust me when I say, there won't be a famine between this and your next taste of basketball. There's too much (and simultaneously not enough) money on the line.
This probably spoils an upcoming column, but I seriously doubt the NBA (even MLB for that matter) will miss any games due to a labor stoppage.
If we learned anything from the NFL lockout it's that there was too much money involved to miss games. Even preseason games were considered bargaining chips, given that related revenues went directly into owners' pockets, not into a community pool under the league's revenue sharing pool. It might surprise you, but those four exhibition games you love to hate compose 10 percent of owners' overall revenue.
Couple that with $1 billion in losses if the calendar read Kickoff Thursday without any football, and $400 million for every missed regular season week after that, and there was really never any cause for concern. Especially not after the league lost its nest egg, a $4 billion forwarding TV contract.
There was just too much money involved, as is the case with the NBA. Interestingly enough, with earnings at over $3.8 billion, the NBA has revenue to quibble over—but not enough to cushion a protracted lockout.
That wasn't the case in 1998—99, when a lockout dropped 32 games from each team's slate. Between immediate operating income and outside stakeholders (TV networks and corporate sponsors), the sacrifices of a lockout more than outweigh the gains.
It'll make for good banter between now and whenever a deal is struck. But it shouldn't be the root of sleepless nights.