Blog Entry

Players call Stern's bluff

Posted on: November 8, 2011 6:54 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 12:54 am
NEW YORK -- Calling David Stern's bluff with the backing of 29 player reps, the National Basketball Players Association rejected the NBA's latest offer Tuesday and requested an additional negotiating session before the league's self-imposed 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline to accept their proposal or subject themselves to a far worse deal.

"Our orders are clear right now," union president Derek Fisher said, flanked by more than 40 players. "The current offer that is on the table from the NBA is not one we are able to accept."

Billy Hunter, the union's executive director, said he planned to call Stern and request further bargaining in the hopes of closing the gap on a list of at least five system-related issues that are standing in the way of a deal. Stern, speaking on NBA TV Tuesday night, said he "always" takes Hunter's calls.

But there is little if any reason to expect Stern not to follow through on his threat to retract the owners' latest proposal offering the players a 50 percent share of revenues and replace it with a far more punitive one -- including a 53-47 share in favor of the owners, a hard team salary cap, rollbacks of existing contracts, and backtracking on a litany of other system issues the two sides previously had agreed upon.

"We'll just wait and see what it is the league does," Hunter said. "I would assume that if we end up being able to reach a deal -- whether it's reached tomorrow or reached four days from now -- even if they were able to impose this artificial threat of rolling back to 47, I'm convinced that they would more than likely, gladly come back and do the 50-50 deal if that's a possibility."

Hunter and Fisher said little time was spent discussing the issue of decertification, a nuclear tactic that hard-line players and agents have been pushing for the past few weeks. Hunter said the measure, which would effectively dissolve the union in an attempt to pressure the league with the threat of anti-trust damages, was "not a worthwhile endeavor."

Hunter also said he was hearing that, in addition to reverting to a more owner-favorable proposal by Wednesday, Stern also was planning to cancel games through Christmas if a deal isn't reached by 5 p.m. Such cancellation threats are largely immaterial, but there is no question the talks have arrived at a junction that will test the resolve of hard-line owners and invite the potential for chaos if dissident agents and players formalize their push to decertify by getting 30 percent of players to sign a petition to be filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

"It's either going to be a collision of the radicals or a collision of the rationals," a member of the players' executive committee told

In addition to Fisher and the rest of the players' executive committee, the meeting was attended by reps for 29 teams, with the biggest star presence being Carmelo Anthony -- whose extend-and-trade arrangement that brought him from Denver to the Knicks last season the owners are seeking to ban in the next CBA.

But neither Melo nor committee member Chris Paul was the biggest star in the building. That was former President Bill Clinton, whose talents for diplomacy are sorely needed.

"I hope it gets worked out because we all want to see basketball," said Clinton, who didn't participate in the meeting but hugged Fisher afterward while handing out to players copies of his new book -- ironically titled, "Back to Work."

The call from Hunter to Stern to reignite the talks and close the gap on essentially a list of five system concerns that the players have was predicated on Hunter and Fisher saying Tuesday that the players are willing to meet the NBA on the economics of a 50-50 split. When talks broke up early Sunday, the players were asking for a 51 percent share of BRI -- with 1 percent going to a benefits fund for players when they retire.

A person directly involved in the negotiations said the union was prepared to go to 50 percent while seeking a creative way to fund a benefits plan for retirees that doesn't come out of the BRI pie.

"I'm the one who's going to call him," Hunter said. "I'll probably call him tonight to see if we can get together some time tomorrow. ... If he says no, I'll just have to deal with that. I'll be denied the opportunity to talk to David."

Hunter said that with a smile and a joking tone, obviously recognizing that this isn't his first rodeo with Stern. He is making a much more serious bet that Stern has room to negotiate further on the system issues, and based Hunter's hunch that an offer from the players to move down to the league's desired 50-50 split would get that done.

With a risk, Hunter acknowledged.

"It's getting hectic on both sides of the table," Hunter said.

Having negotiated with Stern for 15 years, Hunter passed the hot potato right back to him Tuesday with the hope that his longtime bargaining adversary has enough juice to get hard-line owners to look past the obligatory follow up on the threat of worsening the proposal and put NBA players back on the court -- and people in the seats -- with a few system compromises that the players say they need.

I asked Hunter, knowing Stern for as long as he has, how he expected the commissioner to react to having his bluff called Tuesday.

"I don't know that we've ever called his bluff," Hunter said.

"I think you just did," I replied.

"It's yet to be seen," Hunter said. "My concern and what I'm trying to determine is whether or not David may be a hostage in his own camp. That's what kind of concerns me, what's going on over there. He may not have the sway that he once had. He's been a hell of a commissioner, but I'm not sure."

Considering the stakes, and the pressure he faces from the strident wing of the union that wants to decertify, Hunter was in a frisky mood -- even taking a shot at Hall of Famer Michael Jordan when asked what advice he'd give the now-Charlotte Bobcats owner.

"I'd give him the same advice he gave Abe Pollin," Hunter said, referring to Jordan infamous clash with the late owner during the 1998-99 lockout, when Jordan told him to sell his team if he couldn't make a profit. "He should take his own advice."

Rhetoric aside, talks to save the 2011-12 season have reached critical mass, a time when reason is needed more than ever. And regardless of how and when Stern follows through on his threat Wednesday, the wheels already are in motion to bring the two sides together and finish the deal, now that an economic gap that was once nearly $10 billion over 10 years finally has been closed.

According to a person involved in the talks, the players are prepared to submit a proposal to the league with the 50-50 split owners want and the system changes the players need to make the deal more palatable. Over 10 years, the players' proposal will more than account for the owners' stated economic losses of $300 million a year -- shifting $3.3 billion from players to owners compared to the previous 57 percent share the players received.

In return, the players want the owners to come to them on the system issues. Chief among are sign-and-trades and the size and length of mid-level exceptions for luxury-tax-paying teams; a reconfiguring of the luxury tax "cliff" that teams wading into the tax experience by giving up tax money and having to pay it; the severity of the additional luxury tax for repeat offenders; and the escrow system. The latter point involves the league's proposal to roll over 3 percent per year of the escrow they withhold from player paychecks to account for a possible overage in their share of BRI.

"We’re open-minded about potential compromises on our number," Fisher said. "But there are things in the system that are not up for discussion, that we have to have, in order to be able to get this season going again."

But before that happens, prepare for more foot-stomping, more threats, more rhetoric -- and yes, more asshattery.

The owners have a willing accomplice to negotiate with and deliver them more than the $300 million a year in losses they've spent two years seeking. The players have a union that's preserved a soft cap, guaranteed contracts, existing max contract structures and is trying to finish the job by preserving a healthy mid-level exception for all teams and fight off efforts to corral teams as they wade into the tax and stay over it for three out of five years.

Yet some of those players -- as many as 200, according to reports Tuesday night -- are ready to detonate the talks in favor of a decertification tactic that could jeopardize the entire season and, by the way, has never been successful in the history of professional sports.

It all has the potential to blow the deal to high heaven at the very moment when it is on the one-foot line. And given the chaos that will ensue, those very owners may actually enjoy watching that for a while.

Calm before the storm? This is the storm before the calm. A collision of radicals or a collision of rationals.

Or maybe a little bit of both before it's all over.

Since: Dec 5, 2006
Posted on: November 10, 2011 7:52 pm

Players call Stern's bluff

I maybe don't know poker, Ken, as you might know it. what I think is that if you call someone's bluff you are betting they don't have a winning hand. Yet you have admitted that the owners have the leverage and the best hand. So how can you call someone's bluff when you know they will whip you? The owners are not bluffing. That they were engaging the players at the point of time stated in the offer allows that particular negotiation session to continue past the deadline. The players still must know that at some point David Stern will get up and walk out of the room and the negotiating session will be finished. For their sake I hope that Stern holds an agreed-upon new CBA in his hand when he does. The decertification movement means nothing. This session will determine the future. All the shams will only harden the positions and end any chance of a season this year. If this one ends without an agreement there will be new strategy by the owners as well. None of them are greenhorns about lawsuits. There is no bluff.

Since: Jun 25, 2009
Posted on: November 10, 2011 1:28 pm

Players call Stern's bluff

The players went from 57% to 50% giving the owners over $1 BILLION during the course of the CBA.  Please stop making idiotic statements about the players being greedy when they are WILLINGLY TAKING PAYCUTS!  They are simply trying to determine an acceptable paycut, no more no less!  The owners want that money back PLUS MORE, which is pretty much the definition of greed!!!  

What are you talking about?  The issue here isn't the players not offering to give anything back.  The isse is based on last year's BRI the owners NEED 50 percent or they lose money once again.  The owners cut last season was 1.6 billion dollars, the players cut was about 2.2 billion dollars.  Since the owners lost 300 million dollars, the owners need another 300 million dollars to guarantee they at least break even if last year's BRI repeats itself.   That would mean the owners need 50 percent or 1.9 billion dollars for a deal to be possible.  Even just 1 percent less then that and the owners lose 40 million dollars.... why should they lose anything?  The players PROFIT without taking any risks at all.  Yeah, the players are the product but not THESE players..... players come and go and the league continues to go on..... it's not that hard man.  It's simple math.  If you owned a business and lost money and your employees offered to give back some but not all of your losses, you'd tell them to take a hike. 

These owners are billionaires for a reason, and that is because they aren't stupid people.  Trust me, if taking 49 or 48 or 47 percent would mean a profit, they'd already be playing games, there would be no lockout.  These guys didn't become billionaires by shutting down profitable businesses... that's not how things work in the corporate world.  

And one question, why wouldn't the owners want all of their losses back AND MORE when the "AND MORE" part is something every business owner on the planet shoots for, it's called a PROFIT. 

Since: Jul 30, 2008
Posted on: November 10, 2011 5:41 am

Players call Stern's bluff

Stern is a moron! He has gone from the most successful commish in all of sports to a greedy lackey!  Fans want to see basketball!  It's not all his fault, but he thinks that the NBA is invincible. History repeats itself Mr. Stern...power corrupts!  What you are essentially doing is losing fans and revenue for ALL.  I like basketball, LOVE playing fantasy basketball, but as of now I could care less if there is a season this year. Take a look at what happened to the NHL.  I'm from the South, and followed the NHL a little before their last I don't watch it at all.  Honestly, the only players I can name are Crosby and Ovechkin (sp., but who cares)..Gretzky and Howe I can remember.

Mr. Stern, I think you overestimate the NBA's power!  You had a great thing, but now (particularly in the South) most fans think anyone associated with the NBA is greedy (c'mon we are in a recession).  You have lost alot of fans, but who cares, I always loved college BB better!

Since: Sep 9, 2011
Posted on: November 10, 2011 2:22 am

Players call Stern's bluff

Screw it, toss this baby out with the bathwater. College game is so much better anyway.

Since: Sep 9, 2011
Posted on: November 10, 2011 2:22 am

Players call Stern's bluff

Stern really does look like he might own a tobacco farm, haha.

Since: Oct 18, 2011
Posted on: November 9, 2011 10:18 pm

Players call Stern's bluff


Since: Oct 4, 2006
Posted on: November 9, 2011 7:59 pm

Players call Stern's bluff

Who cares about this league.  The popularity continues to fall because they don't play defense and are a bunch of idiots who can't manage their money.  Bye NBA....maybe we could start a televised prison rodeo circuit..these guys could be the clowns since half will probably end up in the slammer!!

Since: Feb 10, 2008
Posted on: November 9, 2011 7:12 pm

Player's will never be as prepared as owners.

I can give many examples, but let's take Eddy Curry.  Need I say more?   Think about this.  Hunter said he's known the league would lock out the players over 2 years ago.  You think the players listed to Hunter and curbed their spending?   The truth of the matter is that most NBA players live (financially) for now and not the future.  That's why they will fold on an offer that they basically said they would never do.  They gave up 7% which more than covers the NBA's losses and yet they will give away more by not getting the system they want.  

Since: Sep 19, 2011
Posted on: November 9, 2011 4:01 pm

Players call Stern's bluff

Excuse me, my math was incorrect. The players are willing to transfer over $325 million a year and over $3 billion over the course of the CBA back to the owners.  My apologies. Sure sounds greedy to me!

Since: Sep 19, 2011
Posted on: November 9, 2011 3:52 pm

Players call Stern's bluff

Its a shame to see people still commenting on the NBA losing $300 million dollars last year and in the next sentence say the players are greedy because they dont want to take a paycut.  The players went from 57% to 50% giving the owners over $1 BILLION during the course of the CBA.  Please stop making idiotic statements about the players being greedy when they are WILLINGLY TAKING PAYCUTS!  They are simply trying to determine an acceptable paycut, no more no less!  The owners want that money back PLUS MORE, which is pretty much the definition of greed!!!  Stop being an idiot and look at the facts when you speak of greed!

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