The NBA players can tell themselves that the owners created this mess. They would be right.
They can say it was the league’s owners who handed them the last collective bargaining agreement, the owners who gave them long and lucrative contracts, the owners who have done inexplicable things like give Joe Johnson a $119 million contract. And they would be right about all that, too.
But this was the bonehead move of all bonehead moves.
The NBA players decided Monday to reject the owners’ latest proposal for a new CBA. They plan to decertify the union and take the league to court for antitrust violations. This is what it looks like when an entire league of players commits suicide.
If the players are serious about all this, forget this season. At least.
Commissioner David Stern said Monday, “If I were a player, one of 450, I would wonder what it is [NBPA] Billy Hunter just did.”
Stern also referred to this as a “nuclear winter.”
Something tells me he has been practicing these soundbites for a while. My only hesitation in completely taking Stern’s side on this is, like the players, I don’t trust him, either.
But Stern and the owners really are holding all of the cards. The NBA is not the NFL in terms of stature or revenue streams. So it doesn’t really matter that the NBA owners are as wrong as the NFL owners were in their desire to change the rules of the game and take back what they’ve already given the players.
The NFL owners never were going to allow the cancellation of regular season games because there was too much money on the table. Everybody was winning, just not to the degree the NFL owners wanted to win.
That’s not the case in the NBA. The bottom line is . . . well, the bottom line. If close to half the NBA’s owners aren’t scared about shutting down the league for a year because they were projected to lose money anyway, does the union really believe the owners are going to blink?
There also are too many markets — Atlanta being one — where the NBA is simply off the radar right now. It’s about college football and the NFL. Soon, it will be about baseball trades and then spring training.
I’m not saying nobody cares because many do — just not so many that a firestorm from the fanbase is going to prompt the two sides to go back to the negotiating table.
Like all owner-player battles, this is being driven by high-powered agents who don’t want to see their commissions go down and the top 10 percent of the salary list who can afford to miss paychecks. But at some point, the players in the league who don’t have long-term security will grumble.
The players will have to give in, and this will not have been worth it.
By Jeff Schultz