Now the wolves come a-hunting.
For nearly a year, one of the goals of both sides in the labor dispute has been to avoid sending it to the courts. The NBA saw the mess that became of the NFL lockout once decertification came through, the amount spent on lawyer's fees and research, the ugly impact on PR. And probably somewhere in there, he also saw that there was a possibility, no matter how remote, that the league could lose. After the NFL lost the first decision, there must have been a shiver down David Stern's spine, even if he was aware and confident that it would be overturned and then upheld in appeal. If the NBA owners haven't failed to bargain in good faith, they've certaintly took bad faith out for a spin in Daddy's car and held its hand for a while.
Similarly, Billy Hunter knew that decertification could cost his side everything. Yes, personally, he could lose his job and that's a pretty strong motivating factor for anyone, should he not return as head under the new union. But it could also mean essentially getting the courts to affirm the league's power and advantage. The players would also have to afford court fees and the public scrutiny that would come with such a move, not to mention the fact that the players would look like "Lord of the Flies," lopping off their own head to dance around in anger around an owner effigy pyre. Hunter knew that the threat of decertification was more powerful than actually moving the debate into the court.
But now, after having the first twenty games cancelled, with paychecks that would be coming now not in a few weeks, with the league's image tarnished by greed, both sides are aware.
The wolves will be back, now. And this time the gates may not hold them out.
If ever there was a time for the agents who had been pushing for decertification and undermining the efforts of the union to say "They had their chance, now it's ours," that time is now. And Hunter may be at the point where it's better to join the barbarians at the gate than keep rallying the Roman Senators while they're stealing from each other's pocketbooks. Hunter washing his hands of negotiation and aiming to take the owners down to the players' level might be the only way to truly put the fear of God back into Stern and his constituents in order to get movement towards compromise. There may be no other option. The players's side has been adamant that losing games doesn't scare them. You know who says things like that loudly? People who are scared of losing games. The players know the score even if they won't admit it. They have little leverage, and the more paychecks that are missed, the worse it will get. The escrow money, sponsorship money, the overseas money won't last forever, won't cover the missing income forever, and at that point, things turn.
Not everyone thinks that this thing will rocket towards legal briefs, however. From Sports Illustrated:
Lastly, you’ll hear lots of talk now about the union decertifying and filing an antitrust suit against the league. Some hard-line agents have pushed for this, and there is the perception that the NFL union’s move to decertify created a bit of temporary leverage, since any successful antitrust suit could wring billions in damages from the owners.via The Point Forward » Posts Key points as full season falls by the wayside «.
Unfortunately, the process would take at least a year to play out in full, and possibly longer. Court decisions, including those in the NFL’s case, leaned more toward the ownership/league side, and the timing of the NFL union’s decertification was much different than would be the case here. The NFL players union decertified much earlier, before their CBA had even expired, and they did so precisely because that soon-to-expire CBA included a deadline by which the union had to decertify.
The NBA union is already much later in the game. Its CBA expired more than 100 days ago, on July 1, and the players stand to lose so much salary over via a canceled season as to make it borderline worthless to pursue a strategy that basically guarantees that cancellation. It could still happen as a means of gaining some temporary “Holy crap!” leverage, but it would be a surprising move, even now.
Unfortunately, that assumes that both sides are thinking strategicall, rationally, logically. Consider the following from long-time basketball scribe Jan Hubbard:
As the percentages each side said were required for a deal haven gotten closer and closer, writers covering negotiations have been more and more dumbfounded that a middle point could not be found. By not playing basketball games in the preseason and now cancelling the first two weeks of the regular season, each side has sacrificed more than it would lose with the other side’s deal. So why not compromise?via Players Beware: It’s a Coldblooded Financial World | Sports Righting.
And therein lies the problem – the assumption that logic applies; the belief that it is common sense to believe both sides to have common sense.
That has been incorrect, which leads to an obvious conclusion. This financial contest is not about dividing revenues fairly.
It’s about winning.
And that just about does it. It's true that both sides are so close to a deal, or at least close enough that it's closer than what a court decision would bring in terms of time. But that assumes that either side is interested in compromise. The players feel they've compromised enough, because they believe that the previous deal is a precedent that should be in play, despite this being a new agreement and not an extension or renegotiation. The owners believe they've compromised enough, because they took their demands from "Oh My God, are you out of your mind?!" to "You can't be serious... wait, you're serious?!" territory.
Neither side wants compromise. They want to win.
And decertification and subsequent court battles may be the only way they can see to win outright. Who would want to compromise when you can win?
Oh, that's right. The fans. But they don't get a say.