Owners have won, but NBA has lost a partnership - NBC Sports

Owners have won, but NBA has lost a partnership
Whenever they come back, don't expect players to be happy employees
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Derek Fisher and his fellow NBA players won't be so eager to participate in team functions after losing the labor talks, writes Ira Winderman.
November 8, 2011, 10:11 am

The offer comes back low, surprisingly low, shockingly low.

There are no other markets available.

Do you allow the crop to rot, as a matter of pride?

Or do you salvage some sort of payment for your perishable commodity?

At a time when more than a few would love nothing more than to toss rotten fruit in the direction of David Stern, Paul Allen, Dan Gilbert or, as hard as it is to believe, Michael Jordan, this is where the NBA players' association stands, hard up against Stern's Wednesday take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum.

Not even under the union's most optimistic counteroffer could players compensate for the loss of an entire season's wages.

Beyond that, if a season is lost, one-eighth of the players who finished last season on NBA rosters would effectively never play another game in their NBA careers (based on 15-player rosters, when factoring in that each team adds one player from the draft each season and that two drafts could occur before the next game is played).

The owners, by contrast, have their day jobs, some of whom actually continue to profit off the players, such as Jordan (Brand Jordan) and Gilbert (Fathead).

That's the thing, this game is over. Owners win.

They win now.

They win in two months, when some hold out hope for a 50-game, 1999-type season.

Or they win at the start of next season, which appears to be the target date of resumption for some on the small-market management side.

But what do they win? This is not the NFL, where fans liquor up during the pregame tailgate and forget what got them to that post-lockout moment in the first place.

This is closer to Major League Baseball, where if the fans return, they return slowly, over a period of years, with considerable recovery revenue lost along the way.

And when the players return, how do they return? Do they embrace those community events that promote the very franchises that are squeezing every last ounce of blood from the process?

Yes, players contractually have to represent their franchises at team functions. It is written into the collective-bargaining agreement. But they don't have to do it with a smile. Those can be reserved for the players' own promotion appearances. Allegiances to Nike and Reebok (but not Brand Jordan) could grow more pronounced than to the logo they wear on their uniforms for games.

Can they truly "Love this Game" when this game has robbed their dignity during these emasculating negotiations?

What Stern has threatened to propose next is nothing short of ludicrous, complete with clawbacks and huge escrow withholding.

Ironically, before it got this contentious, the NBA's threat was of contraction, a threat that since has subsided.

Or has it?

In some ways, the NBA, when it returns, will return as a smaller league, at least during offseasons.

As the small-market teams continue to mass their collective strength, the proposed restrictions on the tax-paying teams will be so severe that it essentially would eliminate eight to 10 teams every summer from the free-agent market, be it through the loss of the full mid-level exception or the proposed ban on sign-and-trade deals for taxpayers.

That, in essence, will make the NBA a 20-team league from July through September. Granted, hot-stove activity does not put actual dollars into the owners' pockets, but it does keep the NBA name out there in the offseason, creates interest, potentially churns tickets sales.

Instead, you could have a franchise such as Orlando explaining to its fans base that it could get nothing in return for a departing Dwight Howard because of the ban on sign-and-trades for teams operating above the tax.

That furthers the game how?

And yet it's also clear that Stern doesn't know how to win.

An ultimatum? That only steels resolve.

If you didn't know better, you'd think Stern wants the players to reject the current deal, so he can put the lack of an NBA season on the union.

This is not hockey, where almost everyone wins, either with two points in regulation or a consolation point with an overtime or shootout loss. This is the NBA, where you grind through overtimes, until the outcome is decisive. That is the basketball culture.

As no less than Pat Riley has told us, there is winning and there is misery in the NBA.

So get ready for some miserable NBA players whenever they return.

The union never came to win. They knew better. They essentially posted an opening line giving four points to the owners, down from a 57-percent basketball-related revenue share to 53. And they have been willing to move from there.

But the players also refuse to lose. An argument can be made that no athletes are coddled to the degree of basketball prodigies, from AAU ball to one-and-done college recruiting to the free-agency courtship that practically turned obscene in 2010.

That makes this more than a labor negotiation. It makes it, based on Stern's ultimatum, a resetting of the framework.

Partners?

That was before.

Now just labor, cheaper labor.

And that has the potential to further sully the game. With each percentage point reduced for the players' side, it's one less percent of incentive to grow the game.

The NBA used to be a partnership.

These negotiations have made sure that never happens again.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat .



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