NBA Lockout: Players-Owners' Bad Romance Stalls Business, Beckons Calamity

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst INovember 8, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 20:  Derek Fisher, President of the National Basketball Players Association speaks at a press conference after NBA labor negotiations at Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers on October 20, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

They need each other, but do they love this game enough to seal the inevitable marriage with a clinching proposal?

Welcome to the NBA’s hackneyed, sepulchral and predictable romantic comedy reenactment, where the two lovebirds cannot see or stomach the ending that must come soon.

The catastrophic consequences loom in the distance, and yet, the self-serving labor parties in the league’s 129-day-old lockout couldn’t be more oblivious to them if they put on blindfolds and spent the rest of the year in a cave, or even better, Antarctica.

Talk is cheaper than Donald Sterling. The concession workers, fans, ushers, ticket representatives, coaches, front office employees and businesses snookered, smoldered and handcuffed by this inexcusable impasse do not want to read another empty apology from David Stern, Adam Silver, Derek Fisher or Billy Hunter.

Sorry? Prove it. Strike a deal.

It’s simple: if the players and owners comprehended the pending devastation, NBATV would have been promoting TNT doubleheaders last week instead of another Teen Wolf showing.

The insufferable wait taunts professional basketball supporters like the final kilometers of a bike race can torture a cyclist. The two sides appear close to a collective bargaining agreement, but neither significant other wants to take the final plunge.

The players must accept a 50-50 revenue split. The owners must relent on a few more system issues. A Wednesday deadline to accept an ultimatum brings the chaos closer.

The braggadocio in that New York hotel meeting room would blind and offend Frank Sinatra. These negotiators have wielded and bowed to more destructive agendas than a cadre of U.S. Congresspersons.

The owners and players seem determined to win individual battles when everyone is losing the war. How much more bloodshed is required for them to see that a deal, any deal, is the only victory anyone should care about?

The time to pout, demand sure-fire profitability or seek a “fair” agreement passed the moment this dangerous dispute threatened the calendar.

Understand that no one can triumph in this PR clash until Stern and Hunter shake hands and announce the lockout has ended. The owners may boast superior financial wherewithal and resources, but they will go down with this ship if it sinks. The 30 captains cannot hide from the hostage situation they caused July 1. They locked out the players on their own volition, knowing at every turn they would score a TKO.

Will someone please find the key before they torch the place for the insurance money?

The bosses won this argument two years ago because Stern could not sell potential buyers on anything but a lopsided CBA. The owners were always going to taste victory via a lengthy list of player concessions.

Pundits and agents who think different union negotiators or earlier decertification could have changed the result should pursue continuing education degrees in naiveté. No one beats David J. Stern at the negotiating table.

The owners for whom he supposedly works would never dare stand up to the emperor. No discernible limits have ever accompanied his authority.

The commissioner, though, has defeated himself by allowing two work stoppages on his watch. A resume blemish has become a permanent stain. He controls how massive it gets.

The NBA serves a chief purpose as a sport and entertainment enterprise: play basketball. The business has stalled, and everyone from Mark Cuban to Robert Sarver to Roger Mason Jr. to Chris Paul is culpable. No one ducks blame here. All members of both labor parties share in this misadventure.

Imagine the outrage if McDonald’s ever stopped selling hamburgers and fries. Imagine Starbucks without coffee. Imagine if a movie theater discontinued films.

Pro hoops will return, but until it does, Stern’s operation ranks as an indisputable failure and a farce. What good is a business that cannot perform the basic function its name says it should?

No customer has ever purchased a ticket for a harder cap, five-year deals with Bird Rights or a more punitive luxury tax. These discussion sticking points should have become compromises with check marks long ago.

The people pay to witness LeBron James. Yet, the owners and players refuse to grasp that getting him back on an NBA court trumps all else.

A cancelled season inflicted years of elephantine wounds and pain on Major League Baseball. A torpedoed campaign confirmed the National Hockey League’s niche status.

Do the bosses with dual NHL and NBA teams ever realize they are comparing a sport that draws an average 2.4 rating for its championship series to another that nets at least four times that number during its title bout?

When Lady Gaga said she wanted a bad romance, she did not mean this bad.

The labor parties keep peddling empathy and catch phrases when the league’s primary audience wants to buy game tickets.

Stern and Hunter have not unzipped their pants to urinate on the faces of supporters thirsty for Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. They might as well do it now, given that their actions continue to contradict their press conference promises and salvos.

Instead of trying to win votes with mock campaign speeches, they should work together for the good of the game.

Ah, the game. Who gives a flip about that anyway? The chuckles and cackles from New York just hit me like sniper fire.

The owners and players can prove their sincerity by reaching across the aisle to close the remaining gaps. Sorry? End this dispute, and then you can apologize.

In trying to flex superiority, each side has demonstrated in an embarrassing manner why it needs what the other offers.

Stern knew dozens of players would threaten to suit up overseas. He also knew roster spots would prove sparse and that no team in Europe or Asia could offer his precious cargo what the NBA does.

The summer barnburners at various recreational courts inspired a few hundred oohs and aahs. They provided a temporary respite from a mind-numbing dispute. They did not, however, replace the real thing.

Amar’e Stoudemire suggested in a TV interview players had engaged in “serious discussions” about starting their own league. He did not elaborate on that laughable assertion or explain how the athletes would acquire the necessary capital to make it happen. Give me a break.

The union touted its resolve and independence. While the commendable show of solidarity was impressive, it fooled no one.

The players need the NBA’s infrastructure and the marketing platform it provides.

A grainy Internet feed of a no-defense-allowed scrimmage cannot replace TNT, ESPN or ABC broadcasts. The experience feels cut-rate and amateurish without the glitzy, exorbitant starting introductions, professional PA announcers, official team uniforms and packed arenas.

Packing a high school gym for a charity affair feels like skipping a U2 stadium spectacle to watch passable musicians cover Ireland’s rock juggernauts at a dive. No thanks.

James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade can trade lob passes at an exhibition, but it does not fill the void. That authentic Miami Heat jersey changes everything.

The owners, too, crave the prestige players afford them. No one in the sports world would care about Dan Gilbert sans James. The screed he posted just after The Decision confirmed how much his relative NBA celebrity is tied to the high-flying athlete he coddled until James’ polarizing Cleveland departure.

Jerry Buss may captain a successful enterprise, but hoops enthusiasts know him as the Lakers’ owner lucky enough to pay Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

These tycoons have misplaced the gratitude owed to the stars that, by association, make them famous. Yes, they are fortunate to possess enough assets to employ such popular figures with such spectacular facilities.

Many of the self-absorbed scoundrels running franchises made a mockery of this dispute and turned it into a cash grab instead of a chance to ameliorate the league.

No deal beats a bad one?

In the warped, delusional world the labor parties refuse to leave, the fear of an insignificant, tarnished repute steers decision making more than common sense.

Will any casual fan or pundit demonize Hunter in five years if the union capitulates on the BRI split and most of the system issues? Will the same follower or analyst care in that span if the small-market bosses compromises on luxury tax penalties and other points of contention?

Few will recall the precise details of who surrendered what, if the sides wise up and salvage a season.

If the owners and players allow the ultimate catastrophe, though, the history books will traduce the involved offenders forever. Do any of these image-conscious negotiators want to be remembered as the collective grouches who slaughtered a business operating at its peak?

Sorry? The players are mad? Both parties will become enraged when they wake up from this self-aggrandizing coma and realize how much damage they have already inflicted on the enterprise that makes them relevant.

They should have performed their own Empire State Building closing scene months ago. Instead, they fight for flawed principles in hopes the customers and hoops scribes will ignore the obvious.

If only they understood their level of co-dependence. They need each other. They need this lockout to end more than they know.

They love this game and are sorry for killing it? Each duplicitous sound byte becomes more difficult to bear when the players and owners lament their own ineptitude by brandishing more weaponry.

This romantic comedy has yielded several violent twists, and the next one promises to top them all. They can stop the carnage with a vow renewal.

Yet, neither group will walk down the aisle to meet the other. Lady Gaga requested a bad romance. We all get to watch this train wreck relationship now.


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