This was all working out so well for the players. Deron Williams said hasta la vista to the lockout and took his talents to Turkey. Kevin Durant lit up Rucker Park with 66 points. Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony went to China and supposedly came back with lucrative offers for themselves and all their pals.
To this point, no superstar has followed D-Will to Turkey or anywhere else. There are complications with these supposedly lucrative offers in China. And oh, we now bring you the widely anticipated and sadly inevitable news of Michael Beasley shoving a fan in the face and Matt Barnes punching an opponent during pro-am games on either coast.
We don't even want to get into the escapades of three former NBA players in the news this week -- Darius Miles, who was arrested for trying to bring a loaded gun through airport security, Rafer Alston, who was sued over his alleged role in a strip club fight, and Samaki Walker, who allegedly tried to dine on eight grams of marijuana during a traffic stop in Arizona, during which police also confiscated prescription drugs and liquid steroids.
Guns, strip clubs and weed -- the trifecta of ammunition for those quick to stereotype NBA players as outlaws, lawbreakers and menaces to society. Great job, guys.
It’s a lockout, so NBA players must be behaving badly. And they are.
I’ve written previously on my disappointment that the stars with all the clout aren’t speaking up for the union in the ongoing labor dispute, preferring instead to stay quiet and tend to their own affairs. The latest flare-up from the NBPA’s knucklehead contingent is proof why union officials disagreed with my premise all along. Simply put, they were happy that the players, by and large, had been conducting themselves professionally during the lockout and not stepping out of line – a la Kenny Anderson, who turned the public on the players when he lamented having to sell some of his luxury cars during the 1998-99 lockout.
The union, it appears, will give up a few sound-byte points to David Stern so long as it can avoid the Kenny Anderson moment. Except now, they have the Michael Beasley moment and the Matt Barnes moment.
The NBA has gone to great lengths in recent years to curtail on-court behavior, clamping down on gesturing, complaining to officials, and the like. But no such rules were in effect at New York City’s Dyckman Park, where Beasley “mushed” the face of a heckler Thursday night. Nor were they in effect at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco, where Barnes punched an opponent in a pro-am game on the very same night.
Such offenses in an NBA game would’ve earned an ejection, a hefty fine and a pointed rebuke from Stern. But the commissioner has no authority over the players now except in how he nonchalantly eviscerated all their bargaining positions with a smile on ESPN Tuesday night.
“They’re not serious about making a deal with the NBA,” Stern said, with no on-air response from any union representative. “They’re so busy talking about their decertification strategy, following the lead of their attorney, Jeffrey Kessler who did it for the NFL players, and engaging in conversations with agents about it and talking about it constantly, that we think that is distracting them from getting serious and making a deal.”
And now, some players are busy slugging playground wannabes and “mushing” the faces of hecklers from coast to coast, failing to realize that everyone in attendance has a phone capable of recording video and uploading it YouTube for all the world to see. Big difference from the last lockout, when we only got to read about a fraction of the follies the next day in the newspaper.
Making matters worse, just when it seemed that the players had a Kenny Anderson moment to pin on Stern – his bloated salary, which was reported to be between $15 million and $23 million – well, never mind. The Associated Press weighed in, citing multiple league sources who said Stern makes less than baseball commissioner Bud Selig ($18 million) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ($11 million). A person with knowledge of the activities of the NBA’s advisory/finance committee – a group of 11 owners who set Stern’s salary – confirmed to CBSSports.com that $10 million or less was “in the ballpark.”
So to sum up, the best strategy the players have against the owners is to walk a straight line (except, now some of them are not) and the threat of stars going overseas (except only one star has done so). And even if more follow – even if 20 more follow – where does that leave the other 400 players? To stay home and receive weekly updates from NBPA president Derek Fisher about how the owners still haven’t moved off their “my-way-or-the-highway” proposal – or to go out and play for free in some exhibition game, where one union member or another might just have to slug somebody?
It’s a tough act to follow, but several star players will try. Even if a dozen or more of them get lucrative deals in China or somewhere else for $1 million a month, that’s still a small fraction of their NBA salaries. Don’t you think Jerry Buss would jump at the chance to pay Kobe Bryant $1 million a month? That’s a hefty discount off his NBA haul of $25 million a year.
How is all of this intertwined? Everything is intertwined during a lockout, and must be viewed through the prism of whether it helps or hurts the players’ bargaining position. Going off on a heckler or opponent at some exhibition game does not qualify as helpful. Except to the traffic on YouTube.