The NBA Lockout has been a long, painful and frustrating experience for anyone who enjoys watching professional basketball. The plain details of the lockout, and the idea of billionaires sparring with millionaires over pocket change, are enough to drive away the casual fan, and presumably even some die-hards, forever.
Adding more angst to the situation is the refusal by David Stern and Billy Hunter/Derek Fisher to let the media and public in on any details that would lay the groundwork for an assumption as to what has been going on behind closed doors. The NBA and NBA Player's Association reps have met for more than 100 hours, in large groups and small groups, with a mediator and without, but without back channel or off-the-record sources, we would know very little about the negotiations based on what the sides' respective spokespeople have presented us with.
Which leads me to this assumption: either Stern and Hunter (and their minions) get dressed up and go stare at each other in a conference room for 12 hours at a time, or there is meaningful, active and collaborative progress being made toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
In either case, we don't know the difference based on what they tell us in press conferences like last Wednesday night/Thursday morning's.
So we're left to our own devices to try and piece together what is going on. Amid all the vague and ambiguous statements made by Stern and Fisher last night, there's got to be something that we can read into a little bit, right?
Let's take some of the last night's press conference comments and read between the lines to determine just how much progress has been made and how much distance separates the NBA and NBPA from giving us all what we need most: professional basketball.
Stern: "We've agreed that we have sort of stopped the clock and we continue to negotiate. We've agreed to continue tomorrow at noontime."
OK. So you admit your artificial deadline of 5 P.M. Wednesday was bogus all along. Terrific.
Stern: "I would not read into this optimism or pessimism as we continue to negotiate."
Sorry, Dave. I can't help but read optimism after you come out of negotiations that lasted 12 hours and in light of the NBPA's concession of that 50-50 BRI split, you and your owners are so dead set on getting.
So the fact that this session didn't blow up in our faces like it has so many times before, and you're coming back to resume in 10 hours isn't necessarily a good sign?
Stern: "Nothing was worked out today."
Then what were you doing for the last 12 hours, playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3? I highly, highly doubt that nothing was worked out today. Otherwise, the session wouldn't have lasted so long.
Stern: "We're not failing and we're not succeeding."
Just continuing to waste time negotiating in circles then? Again, if they were failing in negotiations, the session would have broken off suddenly and one side would have left. If they were succeeding, the deal would be done. So if the gradual progress everyone assumes they're making is really happening, then I guess anything short of a mutual agreement is technically "not succeeding", in Stern's words. This comment gives me optimism when I apply some logic and reasoning to it.
Did the NBA and NBPA make more progress than they're letting on?
On to the union presser...
Fisher: We won't be able to elaborate on any details or any significant progress."
This was not simply because the NBPA wants to play things tight to the vest with the media. Fisher's previous comment stated that there was no significant progress made in the bargaining session to elaborate on. At least this agrees with Stern's comments.
Fisher: "Obviously, we'd have a deal done if the right flexibility was being shown."
The Union was expecting the league to relax positions on several system issues in response to the players' willingness to go 50-50 on the BRI split. That clearly did not take place to the extent that Fisher and Hunter would be comfortable with to finalize a deal.
Hunter: "I think there was enough give and take on both sides to warrant us coming back tomorrow."
This is the statement that is most incongruous with the others. Fisher and Stern both stated that there wasn't significant momentum, but Hunter interjects that the owners moved enough for the NBPA to continue negotiating right away. No progress or progress, which is it?
Hunter: "We didn't make much headway on any of the five system issues."
That's not what we heard, Billy. Fortunately for us, the powerless public, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski is a well-connected man, with sources telling him that big strides were made toward agreement on at least three of the five contended system issues. I'm inclined to believe Wojnarowski's off-record sources instead of Hunter's official press conference comments, always aimed at diplomacy.
So that's the best I think anybody can make of last night's comments when combined with some excellent journalism by unsatisfied writers and reporters. Thanks to them, we know more than Stern, Fisher and Hunter would like us to know.
What we hear almost across the board from source comments is that the guys in front of the microphones are more likely playing down optimism and success than telling us the honest truth.
With all the lying and deception that we're accustomed to in today's media, I sure hope the NBA and NBPA aren't choosing now as the appropriate time to be open and transparent with the media.
Time, and today's underway bargaining session will tell what the truth really is.