Lost in Monday's talk of "nuclear winter" for the NBA is that fact that Tuesday, Nov. 15, was the first day that NBA players were to receive paychecks for the 2011-2012 regular season. While the league has already sacrificed its training camp, preseason and at least six weeks of its regular season, Tuesday is the first day that the money schedule is officially interrupted.
This begs the question: When will the long-anticipated financial pressure now facing the players bubble to the surface? It already has.
The Akron Beacon Journal reports that Cleveland Cavaliers forward Samardo Samuels already sees his colleagues feeling the Heat.
“A lot of people in the league are panicking,” Samuels said. “You’re talking about missing paychecks. Those paychecks you’re missing are going to add up and guys have families and responsibilities and bills to pay. I’m just a guy that’s coming out of college. I’m 22 years old, I don’t have much responsibility.”Samuels also hints at a potential rift among the players caused by disparate financial conditions.
Some of the league’s stars, such as Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, have led the charge in recent days to disband the union, irking some of the younger players like Samuels.The union's take on the situation, as expressed by NBPA executive Maurice Evans to BusinessWeek.com, is that the current labor battle is about far more than direct deposits.
“It’s easy for Paul Pierce to say that. You’ve been in the league how long?” Samuels said. “You’ve got a decent amount of money saved up, but what about the guys just coming into the league who don’t have [anything] saved up?”
“This goes far beyond paychecks,” Maurice Evans, a member of the union’s executive board who finished last season with the Washington Wizards, told reporters following what he said was a unanimous vote. The union will become a trade association. “It’s bigger than just basketball. It’s about guys who will play after us and it’s about guys who played before us.”According to Basketball-Reference.com, Pierce has banked more than $137 million in career earnings and Evans has netted more than $13 million in career earnings, Samuels, though, earned just $500,000 in his rookie season with the Cavaliers.
As the dust was settling on the NBPA's decision to send the NBA a disclaimer of interest, disbanding the union and taking the league to court, the move was seen by observers, including NBA commissioner David Stern, as a "negotiating tactic" intented to compel the owners to improve their offer to the players.
Time waits for no man, and it continues to act as leverage on the players, union or not, to make a deal, any deal. The two sides have roughly six or seven weeks to reach a compromise or the entire season will be lost, a year's worth of paychecks that will be gone for good. While the disclaimer of interest removes the NBPA formally from the negotiating process, talks between the two sides can continue, and it's a virtual certainly that voices, like Samuels', will get louder as time passes and more paychecks are missed.
In this never-ending game of lockout "chicken", Samuels just flinched a bit on behalf of his fellow players. The task at hand for the players now is convincing all of its members to retain faith in the disclaimer of interest strategy despite no clear promise of an end in sight. Without some move towards picking up talks with the league, it's an impossible task. The panicking crowd that Samuels makes reference to is only bound to get louder.
NBPA executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher said on Monday that the collective bargaining talks had "completely broken down" and that the NBPA's player representatives unanimously agreed that the league's proposal was not acceptable. There's no guarantee that those feelings will be the same one month (and two more paychecks) from now.