NBA Lockout: Impasse Feels Like a Three-Advil Headache

Howard RubenContributor INovember 8, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08:  Billy Hunter, Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association, and Derek Fisher, President of the National Basketball Players Association (R), speak at a press conference after the NBPA held a meeting to discuss the NBA lockout at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers on November 8, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

I don’t know about you, but my head is about to explode.  The NBA is sitting on a gold mine and instead is about to detonate a land mine if the players and owners can’t compromise and sign a new collective bargaining agreement.

By the time you read this, the 5 p.m. Wednesday self-imposed deadline set by Commissioner David Stern for the player’s union to accept the owner’s latest proposal will have come and gone.  Either we’ll have an agreement that these privileged 425 elite NBA millionaires will find palatable or we’ll be looking at a lost season and hundreds of lawsuits against individual team owners that are likely to follow if the union goes ahead with its veiled threat to decertify.

After meeting with player reps on Tuesday in New York to look over the latest offer from the league, Union President Derek Fisher said, "The current offer on the table from the NBA is one that we cannot accept." 

ESPN's Marc Stein reported that "the group reached more of an informal 'everyone agrees' position that authorizes (NBPA Executive Director Billy) Hunter and Fisher to accept a 50/50 split of basketball related income in future negotiations as long as the league makes some concessions on certain system issues."

I understand the argument of the players union in that they’ve grown used to receiving 57 percent of basketball-related income set out in the previous CBA.  They contend that by agreeing to lower that percentage to 52.5 percent, they are bending over backwards and giving up hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. 

They have solid, valid points and wish to have more of a "voice" in how the league operates, contending that they are the "show," the entertainment that makes up the NBA.

In several interviews Monday, Stern said the owner’s latest offer would give the players a 50/50 split of BRI, with the possibility of that being slightly higher (51 percent) if league revenues continue to grow.  Players such as Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers have come out in favor of the even split of revenues—it’s become obvious his battle-weary shooting fingers have become itchy.

"We need for the two sides to get together again before Wednesday, because we're too close to getting a deal done," Bryant told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. "We need to iron out the last system items and save this from spiraling into a nuclear winter."

Bryant obviously wants to get on the court and set his sights on a sixth championship ring.  For veterans like Kobe, who stand to lose millions of dollars of salaries and other money-making opportunities, it has come down to desperation time.

What’s appalling to me is that the players have seemed reluctant to strike a deal that, in truth, will only get worse as more time elapses.  Stern may be bluffing, but he sure didn’t sound like it when he went on Steven A. Smith's radio show Monday and said that the next offer on the table from the owners would be for 47 percent of BRI and that recent concessions to the players, such as dropping demands for a hard salary cap, would be wiped out.

The bottom line is that the average salary in the NBA is $5.15 million.  Even the median salary, at $2.33 million, is mind boggling to the average American and their $50,000 per-year total. 

In the deal put forth by the owners, the players will still make a lot of money, the salary caps will remain soft, the mid-level exception will hold at about $5 million and the fans will continue to pay through the nose to see their favorite players knock down threes and jam through superhuman, highlight-reel dunks.

At a time when unemployment sits at nine percent and millions of people cannot find work anywhere, it’s difficult to fathom millionaires and billionaires squabbling over an agreement that, either way, will continue to enrich both sides for years to come.

I’m sure there are thousands of fans like me, sitting quiet on the sidelines, our heads throbbing from the sheer exhausting, mind-numbing rhetoric of the past four months.

While I give the players credit for sticking together, it feels a bit like Custer's Last Stand, and we all know how that turned out.

My recommendation?  It’s time for the players to strike a deal.  In the end, you have no leverage—the owners always “win” and the game will go on, with you or without you.  It’s that simple.