NBA Lockout: Players Will Regret Disbanding the Union, Delaying Their Defeat

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst INovember 15, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14:  Derek Fisher, President of the National Basketball Players Association reacts after a press conference after National Basketball Players Association  met to discuss the current CBA offer at Westin Times Square on November 14, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

David Stern and Billy Hunter all but promised a “nuclear winter” Monday, and that black mushroom cloud headed right for the 2011-2012 NBA season began to suffocate sickened, disillusioned supporters who had circled Dec. 15 as the day their favorite sport would return.

Two sides trying to split $4 billion allowed this apocalyptic scenario to unfold. They have destroyed a thriving league and perhaps any hope of the anticipated follow-up act to one of the finest campaigns in the association’s history.

The players abhorred the owners’ demand for more givebacks and countered by rejecting the proposal that would have slashed just 10 games from the slate. The union will disband and file a disclaimer of interest, allowing the individual members to challenge the lockout with a lawsuit.

The union did not decertify, but this destructive, devastating verdict threatens more than 82 nights of basketball for 30 teams. The employees unleashed all holy hell on professional hoops, and the ramifications impact everything from the 2012 Olympics, to Hall of Fame careers, to even the 2012-2013 schedule.

It could all go up in flames now, thanks to a nebulous rupture that will transport this slog from the boardroom to the courtroom. The courts—thanks to a never-ending high volume of cases—tend to handle these matters with the speed of molasses and crawling infants.

Those anticipating a snappy resolution might memorize all the numbers after 3.14 in Pi before the union’s pending anti-trust suit ever yields a ruling. Can anyone predict a timetable?

Understanding that mutually assured destruction is imminent does not require a legal consultant. Lawyers can explicate the details. Fans can grasp the severe consequences: dark arenas through next summer, many more lost jobs and bickering constituencies waiting for a gavel to end this messy, miserable dispute.

The players’ reluctance to surrender was understandable. Who wants to bow to Stern and admit he won in a rout?

Pundits and NBA followers alike saw this repudiation coming. Stern’s radio and TV interview barrage over the weekend all but confirmed the owners’ last, best proposal was doomed. The players were never going to approve a tweaked prospective deal they still saw as unjust and one-sided.

When they agreed to lower their share of basketball-related income to 50, they expected counter concessions. None came.

Union leadership and squad representatives told the owners “no” in a ferocious display of certitude Monday morning. Stern fired back with every vicious volley possible.

They turned down an imperfect collective bargaining agreement framework, and they’ll regret it a few months from now. Derek Fisher and his fellow board members will hurl and may suffer from clinical depression when they realize what the super agents and Hunter probably pushed them to do.

Laud the players’ dauntlessness. Curse their naiveté.

Fisher cited the importance of fighting for a principle he said will affect players 10 years from now. The time for fighting expired two months ago.

The labor parties’ principles became even more flawed the moment the NBA calendar absorbed its first direct hit. A financial skirmish will now turn nastier and more contentious.

The hideous faces of greed and callowness will become etched in the eyes and minds of hoops fanatics who hoped one side would care enough to save the season.

The greed mongering, hard-line CEOs pushing for a system overhaul won the lockout two years ago. All this latest wrinkle does is delay their blowout triumph.

Screw competitive balance and a fairer market. This was always about businessmen fattening their wallets and wiping the floor with the helpless employees.

If the players think the deal they discarded stinks, they will need gas masks to navigate through the CBA Stern will force them to sign next summer.

Can union chiefs stomach murdering two consecutive seasons? No chance.

The owners will get anything and everything they want when the smoke bomb clears. No negotiating tactic was ever going to change that.

Only Luke Skywalker can defeat Darth Vader. Stern helped the hard-liners construct a Death Star, knowing the union would never unearth its version of Skywalker and the heroic Jedi Knights to destroy it.

The NBA filed its own complaint with the National Labor Relations Board months ago to ensure any and all union gambits would fail in court.

Superior weaponry wins most wars. The owners showed up with Uzi’s, assault rifles and long-distance grenades. The players scrapped together crossbows, knifes and some sticks to make fire.

A one-sided result was inevitable, given that firepower discrepancy. The players keep trying to create leverage that will never come. Now, they get a probable lost season and endless scorn from uninformed fans that think the athletes are voracious and ungrateful.

The insistence on maximizing players’ ability to move to luxury tax teams did not justify torpedoing the campaign.

No one wanted to bow to Stern, but it was time for the union to accept its loss and get back to work.

The player reps and NBAPA board opted for “nuclear winter,” but how would the deal have fared if put to a full membership vote?

How many silent players would have elected to start training camps and free agency within the month?

A Dec. 15 start date and 72 games would sound more enticing to a union that better understood its powerless position. Hunter and Fisher have underestimated the ruthlessness of several owners to the NBA’s own detriment.

Why tout a fairness principle most of the hard-liners have never embraced? If Dan Gilbert, Robert Sarver and the determined others valued significant compromise and equitableness, Fisher would have been starting at point guard for the Lakers the first week of November instead of battling the bosses.

Why should Gilbert care if the season goes kaput? His Cavaliers will trudge through another dreadful lottery campaign whenever the sport reconvenes.

He was happy to abdicate all responsibility for LeBron James’ acrimonious departure from Cleveland. He posted an embarrassing, unprofessional and hypocritical diatribe on after The Decision and has never apologized for it.

Gilbert made sure long suffering, gullible and anguished Clevelanders would not hold him accountable for his failures. He created the enabling culture that spurred James’ self-aggrandizing act to new heights. He embodies the popular refrigerator magnet phrase: “To err is human, to blame it on someone else shows management potential.”

That demonstration of cowardice paid dividends then. Now, Gilbert can sit back while a toxic environment becomes more combustible by the day and let the players take all the heat for the impasse and ensuing lost season.

The mostly white owners, most of whom hide in suites and luxury boxes, know that spectators find it easier to scapegoat the well-compensated athletes who star in TV shoe advertisements and grace billboards. Few will assign the necessary blame to Stern.

He gambled that he could break the union with a few tests and a missed round of paychecks. He lost that hubris-based bet. Casual fans do not blame Ted Leonsis because they don’t know who Ted Leonsis is.

The game’s greatest guardians are watching it die because they cannot swallow pride or digest a slice of humble pie.

If the players’ latest attempt at leverage flops, rookies a decade from now will remember the 2011-2012 leadership group in the worst way possible.

How many future employees would have griped about the CBA Stern pushed the labor parties to ratify?

So many players insisted the previous agreements would harm their livelihoods, and yet, provisions that ranked as victories for ownership benefited them, too. The rookie wage scale and salary cap created the very middle class the union remains determined to preserve.

A few months from now, given the distance of time, the players will forever rue Nov. 14 and Dec. 15. They forfeited the chance to salvage the meat of the regular season to pursue a charge that will backfire. Stern will find a way to smother the disclaimer.

If they discount the commissioner when he promises the next offer will shrink, they are stupid.

If they discount the hard-liners’ willingness to deploy the atomic bomb in the name of a foolproof salary system, they are suckers for optimism. Dangerous optimism.

Fisher and Hunter might be right when they characterize the union as the one side that has bargained in good faith with eyes pointed at a fair result and at least a partial slate.

That is why the players should have withdrawn Monday, accepted all terms of the deal and ended the work stoppage.

They were destined to lose. All they could do was alter the final score. Stern’s modified proposal afforded them a respectable finish. They eschewed that opportunity to keep a faulty principle on life support.

When it perishes, along with the one of the most anticipated seasons in years, the players will look back on the prospect of “nuclear winter” and wonder why they ever believed a 50-50 BRI split and an unfavorable delivery system was such a bad pact.

They could have yielded to Stern on Monday. Soon enough, they’ll wish they had.


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