Posted on: November 15, 2011 8:24 pm
Edited on: November 15, 2011 11:45 pm
NEW YORK -- NBA players sued the league alleging antitrust violations Tuesday, in part using commissioner David Stern's own words against him in making their case that the lockout is illegal.
With two antitrust actions -- one in California naming superstars Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant among five plaintiffs, and another in Minnesota naming four plaintiffs -- the players are seeking summary judgment and treble damages totaling three times the players' lost wages due to what lead attorney David Boies referred to as an illegal group boycott.
"There's one reason and one reason only that the season is in jeopardy," Boies told reporters at the Harlem headquarters of the former players' union, which was dissolved Monday and reformed as a trade association to pave the way for the lawsuits. "And that is because the owners have locked out the players and have maintained that lockout for several months. ... The players are willing to start playing tomorrow if (the owners) end the boycott."
The California case, filed Tuesday night in the Northern District, named plaintiffs who represent a wide array of players: Anthony, Durant and Chauncey Billups (high-paid stars); Leon Powe (a mid-level veteran); and Kawhi Leonard (a rookie). The plaintiffs in a similar case filed in Minnesota are Caron Butler, Ben Gordon, Anthony Tolliver and Derrick Williams.
Boies said there could be other lawsuits, and at some point, they could be combined.
It is possible, Boies said, that the players could get a summary judgment before the NBA cancels the entire season -- essentially a two-month timeframe. By that point, with the clock starting on potential damages Tuesday -- which was supposed to have been the first pay day of the season for the majority of players -- treble damages could amount to $2.4 billion.
"We would hope that it's not necessary to go to trial and get huge damages to bring them to a point where they are prepared to abide by the law," Boies said.
A statement released by the league office Tuesday night, spokesman Tim Frank said: "We haven't seen Mr. Boies' complaint yet, but it's a shame that the players have chosen to litigate instead of negotiate. They warned us from the early days of these negotiations that they would sue us if we didn't satisfy them at the bargaining table, and they appear to have followed through on their threats."
Earlier, Boies seemed to have anticipated this response, noting that the NBA's lawsuit in the Southern District of New York -- in which the league sought a declaratory judgment pre-emptively shooting down an eventual dissolution of the union -- came first.
"The litigation was started by the owners," Boies said. "... This case was started months ago when the NBA brought it there."
The crux of the players' argument is that, absent a union relationship to shield them from antitrust law, the 30 NBA owners are engaging in a group boycott that eliminates a market and competition for players' services and are in breach of contract and violation of antitrust law. The players are seeking to be compensated for three times their lost wages as permitted by law, plus legal fees and any other relieft the court deems necessary and appropriate.
One of the many issues to be resolved is where the lawsuits ultimately will be heard. The NBA almost certainly will file a motion seeking that the players' complaints be moved to the Southern District, which is in the more employer-friendly 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Northern District in California is in the more employee-friendly 9th Circuit, while the Minnesota case was filed in the district residing in the 8th Circuit, where the NFL players ultimately fell short in their quest for a permanent injunction lifting the lockout.
The NBA players are not seeking a permanent injunction; rather, Boies said they are pursuing the more expeditious and fact-based summary judgment, which could save months of legal wrangling.
UPDATE: Boies asserted that the plaintiffs have the right to choose which appropriate court has jurisdiction over their lawsuit, and that the NBA's lawsuit in New York was premature -- since the NBA players had never before in their history of union representation since the 1950s disclaimed interest or decertified until Monday. In contrast to the NBA's argument that dissolution of the union and an antitrust action were the players' goals all along, the lawsuit laid out that the players participated in bargaining with the league for more than four years after they were first allegedly threatened with massive rollbacks of salaries and competition for their services. Boies said the players had continued to bargain for months while locked out, offering a series of economic concessions totaling hundreds of millions of dollars until they finally reached the owners' desired 50-50 split in the final days of negotiations.
Unlike the NFL Players' Association's failed disclaimer of interest and antitrust action, in which the players' case was harmed by the lack of certainty over whether the collective bargaining process had ended, Boies said there was no disputing that bargaining talks had concluded in the NBA -- and that Stern himself had ended them by presenting a series of ultimatums and "take-it-or-leave-it" offers that the players could not accept.
"They had an opportunity to start playing with enormous concessions from the players," Boies said. "That wasn’t enough for them. If the fans want basketball, there’s only one group of people that they can get it from, OK? And that’s the owners, because the players are prepared to play right now."
The NBA undoubtedly will argue that it was the players who ended bargaining when their union disclaimed, and that the disclaimer is a sham, or a negotiating tactic as opposed to a legitimate dissolution.
The lawsuits came one day after the players rejected the league's latest ultimatum to accept their bargaining proposal or be forced to negotiate from a far worse one. The National Basketball Players Association at that point disclaimed interest in representing the players any longer in collective bargaining with the league after failing to reach an agreement during the 4 1-2 month lockout that was imposed by owners July 1.
In the California case, Boies, his partner, Jonathan Schiller, and players' attorney Jeffrey Kessler laid out a meticulous case that the collective bargaining process had been ended by the owners and that the players had no choice but to dissolve the union and pursue their case via antitrust law. They laid out a series of concessions the players made in an effort to reach a deal, including a "massive reduction in compensation" and "severe system changes that would destroy competition for players."
The lawsuit quoted Stern's own demands when he issued two ultimatums to the union during the final week of talks, threatening the players both times to accept the offer (with a 50-50 revenue split and various restrictions on trades and player salaries) or be furnished a worse offer in which the players' salaries would have been derived from 47 percent of revenues in a system that included a hard team salary cap and rollbacks of existing contracts -- all deal points the two sides had long since negotiated past and abandoned.
Asked if Stern made a mistake issuing the ultimatums that ended the talks, Boies said, "If you're in a poker game and you bluff, and the bluff works, you're a hero. Somebody calls your bluff, you lose. I think the owners overplayed their hand."
In the California lawsuit, the players' attorneys alleged that the owners' bargaining strategy was hatched during a meeting between league and union negotiators in June 2007. In that meeting, the lawsuit alleged, "Stern demanded that the players agree to a reduction in the players' BRI percentage from 57 percent to 50 percent," plus a more restrictive cap system. Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver told Hunter, according to the lawsuit, that if the players did not accept their terms, the NBA was "prepared to lock out the players for two years to get everything." Stern and Silver assured Hunter in the meeting that "the deal would get worse after the lockout," the lawsuit alleged.
The threats of getting a worse deal after the lockout if the players didn't accept the owners' terms were repeated in a letter to the union dated April 25, 2011, according to the lawsuit -- which then laid out the contentious, sometimes bizarre, and almost indisputably one-sided negotiation that transpired over the next few months.
"I will give the devil their due," Boies said. "They did a terrific job of taking a very hard line and pushing the players to make concession after concession after concession. Greed is not only a terrible thing, it's a dangerous thing. By overplaying their hand, by pushing the players beyond any line of reason, I think they caused this."
Boies said it was in neither side's best interests for the action to proceed to trial, which could take years and multiply the threat of damages against NBA owners. Even in their current capacity as members of a trade association, the players could have a settlement negotiated on their behalf among the attorneys for both sides. The settlement could then take the form of a collective bargaining agreement, but only after the majority of players agreed to reform the union and the owners agreed to recognize it.
Another option would be for a federal judge to require both sides to participate in mediation under the auspices of a federal magistrate; attendance would be required, though the results wouldn't be binding.
"There's lots of ways to get started, but it takes two to tango," said Boies, who once sued Microsoft in an antitrust case and represented Al Gore in his failed 2000 presidential bid based on a disputed vote count in Florida.
"If you've got somebody on the other side who is saying, 'It's my way or the highway, it's take it or leave it, this is our last and final offer and you will not see negotiation,' you can't resolve this," Boies said. "That, I will predict, that will stop, OK? There will come a time when the league faces the reality of the exposure that they face under the antitrust laws, the exposure that they face because of fan dissatisfaction with their unilateral lockout, the exposure they face by having other people in the business of professional basketball. And they will believe it is in their best interests to resolve this case.
"I can't tell you when that will happen," Boies said. "But I will tell you that it will happen, because those forces are too strong for anybody to resist indefinitely."
Tags: Anthony Tolliver, antitrust, Ben Gordon, Billy Hunter, Carmelo Anthony, Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, David Boies, David Stern, Derrick Williams, Grizzlies, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Knicks, Leon Powe, lockout, Mavericks, National Basketball Players Association, NBPA, Pistons, Spurs, Thunder, Timberwolves
Posted on: October 27, 2011 10:52 pm
Edited on: October 28, 2011 12:58 am
NEW YORK – Setting up the next and most pivotal day in the NBA labor talks, negotiators will convene Friday with what commissioner David Stern described as “resolve” to finally close the gap and agree to the two key elements of a new collective bargaining agreement: the system and the split of revenues.
“I can’t tell you we’ve resolved anything in such a big way, but there’s an element of continuity, familiarity and I would hope trust that would enable us to look forward to (Friday), where we anticipate there will be some important and additional progress or not,” Stern said in a news conference Thursday night after a 7 1-2 hour bargaining session at a luxury Manhattan hotel.
“We’re looking forward to seeing whether something good can be made to happen,” Stern said.
After spending 22 1-2 hours over two days hammering out many of the details of a new system that the league believes will foster more competitive balance, the moment of truth has arrived – for the third time this month. Two times prior, the negotiators expressed confidence they were within striking distance of one or the other key issue – the system or the split – only to have the talks fall apart in spectacular fashion.
But according to several people involved in the negotiations or briefed on them, there has been a noticeable uptick in urgency to finally end the nearly four-month lockout, with the last realistic possibility to salvage games already canceled – and avoid canceling more – set to evaporate without a deal in the next several days.
In a moment of levity that also pointed to the importance of Friday’s bargaining session, Stern chimed in from the back of the room during union executive director Billy Hunter’s news conference when Hunter was asked when the important, difficult moves would be made to finally close the deal.
“Well, David Stern is sitting back there,” Hunter said. “I think he can probably tell you. Hopefully, sometime tomorrow.”
And right on cue, Stern shouted jovially from the back of the room, “Tomorrow!”
In another important moment from Thursday night’s separate news conferences – held only 18 hours after the 4 a.m. ET affairs earlier in the day – Stern was asked if the league was prepared to make another economic move Friday if necessary to get the deal done. The two sides are trying to agree on the framework of a new system of player contracts and team payrolls before proceeding with the final, most important, and interrelated piece of the negotiation: the split of BRI.
“We’re prepared to negotiate over everything,” Stern said. “We’re looking forward to it.”
The most recent formal proposals have the owners offering the players a 50-50 split of revenues, while the players have proposed a 52.5 percent share. The players received 57 percent under the previous six-year CBA. The split of revenues was not discussed Wednesday or Thursday, the parties said.
“We remain apart on both, so from that standpoint, we’re disappointed,” Silver said.
Hunter does not share Silver’s view that the split and system structure are unrelated, and those two viewpoints must collide one last time Friday with urgency to reach an agreement and preserve a full 82-game schedule at its highest point since the lockout began July 1.
“You definitely have to have some agreement on the system,” Hunter said. “Because if the system’s not right, then as we’ve indicated before, the number’s not going to work. And so the two are interrelated.”
But while there remain significant details to be resolved over a more punitive luxury tax system and other rules governing trades and contracts, Stern’s demeanor was decidedly upbeat after a second consecutive day of trying to bridge the bargaining gap in a small-group format that clearly has gained traction and momentum.
The rosters of negotiators were essentially the same as the 15-hour session held Wednesday into the early morning hours of Thursday. Stern, Silver, deputy general counsel Dan Rube, general counsel Richard Buchanan, labor relations committee chairman Peter Holt of the Spurs, Board of Governors chairman Glen Taylor of the Timberwolves, and James Dolan of the Knicks were joined by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who was flying through New York on his way home from Paris. Other than the absence of union economist Kevin Murphy (who will be present Friday) and the addition of vice president Roger Mason, the players’ contingent was intact with Hunter, president Derek Fisher, vice president Mo Evans, general counsel Ron Klempner and attorney Yared Alula.
Posted on: October 1, 2011 7:17 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 9:17 pm
NEW YORK -- After nearly eight hours of bargaining Saturday, negotiators for the NBA and its players association broke for the weekend -- still with no agreement and no regular season games lost, but "closer" to a compromise on system issues, commissioner David Stern said.
At the suggestion of National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, the two sides "decoupled" the issues of the split of revenues and the system that would go with it, attempting to "break down the mountain into separate pieces," NBPA Derek Fisher said. The two sides exchanged proposals "back and forth," players' committee member Maurice Evans said, and agreed to meet again Monday in a small group with only the top negotiators and attorneys and Tuesday with the full bargaining committees.
"We're not near anything," Stern said. "But wherever that is, we're closer than we were before."
Hunter characterized the two sides as being "miles apart" even on the system issues that separate them as the owners and league negotiators try to incorporate system changes they feel "entitled to," Hunter said, by virtue of dropping their insistence on a hard team salary cap. Stern said no announcement regarding further preseason games being canceled would be made Monday, but warned that it's "day by day" after that.
Stern did not answer a direct question about when regular season games would have to be canceled, saying, "Stay tuned."
"I don't know whether the 11th hour is Tuesday or not," Hunter said. "... Time is moving in that direction."
The "modest movement" on system issues that one person in the negotiating room described to CBSSports.com came only after the two sides, at Hunter's suggestion, agreed to separate the division of basketball-related income (BRI) from the system issues such as the cap, contract length, nature of exceptions and luxury tax. The decision to tackle the two major sticking points in the negotiations separately came after players threatened to walk out of the bargaining session Friday upon learning that the owners have not moved off of their standing economic proposal that would give the players a 46 percent share of BRI -- down from the 57 percent they received under the agreement that expired July 1.
"We're very far apart in BRI and made no progress in that," NBPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler said. "So we tried to see if we could make any progress in something else."
Of course, the system changes each side would be willing to tolerate in a finished agreement would be inextricably linked to the split of revenues. According to a person briefed on the negotiations, the players would be willing to accept more system restrictions if they achieved a BRI share of 53 percent, but there is no chance they would accept what the owners are proposing at their current offer of 46 percent or modestly more than that.
For example, at 53 percent there would be a willingness on the players' part to discuss modifications to the mid-level exception, eliminating base-year compensation and other restrictions such as the owners' proposed luxury-tax system, which in its current form would charge a tax of $1-$4 depending on how far over the tax a team spent. The owners have proposed reducing the starting mid-level salary at $3 million, while the players have signaled a willingness to negotiate down to $5 million from last season's level of $5.8 million.
In addition to BRI and system issues, the other key piece of the puzzle is the owners' revised revenue sharing system, which Stern has said would triple and then quadruple the existing pool of $60 million. On Saturday, Hunter called the owners' revenue-sharing plan "insignificant." Sources say it isn't just the amount of revenue sharing, but the timing of its implementation, that is holding up that part of the deal.
Under the owners' revenue-sharing proposal, the Lakers would contribute about $50 million and the Knicks $30 million toward an initial pool of $150 million, sources said. There is reluctance, according to one of the people familiar with the talks, on the part of small-market teams to increase the players' share of BRI to beyond 50 percent without a stronger commitment from the big-market teams to share more -- and to share more quickly in the first year of the deal. Some big-market owners are pushing for a more gradual phase-in of their increased sharing responsibilities and are reluctant to take the hit this coming season, one of the people with knowledge of the talks said.
Given the sheer numbers of issues and the distance between the sides, Hunter said, "It's a pretty wide gulf that we're dealing with."
But make no mistake: While the two sides remain entrenched on economics and don't see eye-to-eye on system, either, the work of building an agreement from the ground up -- piece-by-piece through a system both can agree on -- and then backing into the economic split is the only way this is going to get done in time to preserve regular season basketball.
"We weren't going to be able to make major, sweeping progress on the entire economics and the system at the same time," Fisher said. "We felt that maybe if we split them up and try to go at them one at a time ... we can at least get some momentum and some progress going."
The passion and emotion that were exhibited Friday were replaced by a "mellow" astmosphere on Saturday, according to Hunter. This was partly due to the negotiating process being focused on specific system issues as opposed to being more "rambling," as deputy commissioner Adam Silver said, and hinged on avoiding -- for the time being -- the most difficult problem facing the negotiators: how much of the league's $4 billion each side gets.
In addressing the passion that erupted early in Friday's session attended by superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and others, Stern acknowledged a "heated exchange" with Wade. Without addressing the specifics of how Wade took exception to Stern's pointing and lecturing, Stern said, "I feel passionately about the system that we have and what it has delivered and what it should continue to deliver for the players and the owners. And he feels passionately, too. And I think that if anyone should step up on that, it’s my job, on behalf of the owners, to make the points that need to be made."
The stars were mostly absent Saturday, with LeBron, Wade and Melo heading to North Carolina to play in committee member Chris Paul's charity game. Among the players joining Fisher and committee members Evans, Roger Mason, Theo Ratliff and Matt Bonner on Saturday were Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Arron Afflalo and Ben Gordon. The owners' committee was the same as it was Friday -- i.e. no Mark Cuban or Wyc Grousbeck -- with James Dolan leaving early to join the NHL's Rangers on an overseas trip.
Silver singled out Pierce in particular for being vocal in the bargaining sessions, and joked, "You have have heard Dwyane Wade had a few things to say in the meeting. ... The owners certainly heard the passion from the players and right back at them from the owners."
So what happens next? In a perfect world, the small groups of top negotiators are able to tailor the issues discussed the past two days into the framework of a system each side can agree to. Then, as Hunter said, it has to be "linked up again" with the split of revenues. To get all owners on the same page, the sharing of that revenue has to be addressed, too. In the absence of significant progress by Tuesday, the league will have to cancel another week or the remainder of the preseason schedule. Regular season games wouldn't be far behind.
But if a deal is going to get done to avoid all that, this is the only way to do it: divide the mountain of problems up and tackle each one separately. The stakes only get bigger, and the positions more entrenched after the next five days. The mountain gets bigger.
"The window is now to get a deal," one front office executive said.
And if not now? Brace yourselves.
Tags: Adam Silver, Arron Afflalo, Ben Gordon, Billy Hunter, Carmelo Anthony, Celtics, Chris Paul, David Stern, Derek Fisher, Dwyane Wade, Heat, Hornets, James Dolan, Knicks, Knicks, Lakers, LeBron James, lockout, Mark Cuban, Matt Bonner, Maurice Evans, Mavericks, National Basketball Players Association, NBPA, Nuggets, Paul Pierce, Pistons, Roger Mason, Spurs, Theo Ratliff, Wyc Grousbec
Posted on: August 17, 2011 5:00 pm
Edited on: August 17, 2011 9:08 pm
During a series of meetings in which union officials are updating players on the status of collective bargaining this week, one voice stood out: that of Kobe Bryant.
Before a star-studded audience of about 75 players in Los Angeles Tuesday, Bryant was “up front” and “deliberate” in a speech in which he urged players to maintain solidarity and “stand behind the union” during the lockout, according to a person who was in attendance. Sources told CBSSports.com that another test of that solidarity could come next week, as top union officials were authorized Wednesday to contact deputy commissioner Adam Silver in the hopes of scheduling a bargaining session in New York before the end of the month.
Bryant and Paul Pierce told players Tuesday it was important for them to “remain united” in the face of a lockout that has dragged well into its second month with only one full-scale bargaining session, the person who attended the meeting said. Among the players in attendance were Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon of the Clippers, Elton Brand of the 76ers, Tyson Chandler of the Mavericks, Russell Westbrook and James Harden of the Thunder and Corey Maggette of the Bobcats.
Contacted for comment on the player meetings, union chief Billy Hunter said he also briefed a contingent of about 20 agents on the status of negotiations Tuesday before traveling to Las Vegas, where he was meeting with about 35 players Wednesday. Hunter also will meet with players next week in Houston, Chicago and New York.
“Our message is that there’ve been several proposals back and forth, and the last proposal by the NBA would be a giveback of $8 billion over 10 years,” Hunter told CBSSports.com. “The players understand and they’re supportive.”
Hunter said there was a “divergence of opinion” among the agents about the National Basketball Players Association’s decision not to disclaim interest in representing the players – and the players’ decision not to decertify. Some high-profile agents have clamored for decertification, which would send the dispute to the federal court system under antitrust law. Hunter has so far resisted, preferring to explore the possibly more expeditious path to an injunction lifting the lockout, which could result if the union is successful in getting the National Labor Relations Board to issue an unfair labor practices complaint against the NBA.
Sources said NLRB investigators are expected to wrap up the evidence-gathering phase as early as next week and would then have all the information they need to render a decision on the players’ charge.
Though NBA commissioner David Stern is expected to be away on vacation, sources also told CBSSports.com that the two sides are trying to reconvene for a high-level bargaining session next week in New York. If league and union officials can agree on the scheduling details, it would be the first full-scale bargaining session since Aug. 1 – and the first since the NBA filed a federal lawsuit and an NLRB charge accusing the players of failing to bargain in good faith. Both legal actions were filed on Aug. 2, one day after Stern said the players were not bargaining in good faith.
It remains to be seen whether the players’ desire to meet next week will result in a productive negotiating session or more mudslinging. Stern accused the players of canceling a bargaining session last week while Hunter was involved with four days of appearances before the NLRB. Sources said an offer by the union to hold a staff-level bargaining session was rejected by the league, and that Hunter was told Stern would be away on vacation this week and next.
Clearly, Stern could easily return to New York for a bargaining session regardless of his vacation plans. So it’s a matter of will on both sides – and a question of whether anything has changed since the fruitless session on Aug. 1. Answer: Probably not. Not yet.
Posted on: June 13, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 4:42 pm
MIAMI -- Dwane Casey, the defensive architect behind the Mavericks' championship shutdown of the Heat's Big Three, is high on the Pistons' list of head coaching candidates, league sources told CBSSports.com Monday.
The Pistons, who already have reached out to former Hawks coach Mike Woodson and received permission to interview Bucks assistant Kelvin Sampson, Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank, and Timberwolves assistant Bill Laimbeer, will reach out to Mavs general manager Donnie Nelson Tuesday with a request to interview Casey.
Casey, who has been passed over for several head coaching jobs since being fired by the Timberwolves in 2007, has strng together an impressive resume during the playoffs. His defensive schemes frustrated Kobe Bryant in a sweep of the Lakers, caused a rift between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the Western Conference finals, and stymied the Heat's Big Three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh in a 4-2 victory over Miami in the Finals. Casey's defense turned James into a non-factor in the fourth quarter during the Finals and held the two-time MVP to only 17.8 points per game in the series -- nearly 10 points below his season average.
Posted on: June 12, 2011 10:14 pm
Edited on: June 12, 2011 10:18 pm
MIAMI -- Guess what folks? If there is a Game 7 in the NBA Finals, the league office will have a very difficult interpretation to make regarding players who left the bench during a second-quarter skirmish in Game 6.
After a timeout had already been called, the Heat's Udonis Hasmel and the Mavericks' DeShawn Stevenson got into a shoving match after Eddie House had hit a 3-pointer to give Miami a 42-40 lead with 6:25 left in the quarter. Several players on both teams had already begun walking onto the floor for the timeout when the altercation broke out.
Miami's Mario Chalmers, who was in the game at the time, rushed in to confront Stevenson and escalated the altercation. All three players received technical fouls.
But here's where it gets interesting: What happens to the players who were not in the game, who had started walking onto the floor for the timeout, and who got involved in the fracas? Players such as, for example, LeBron James?
A league official said Sunday night that no such players will be automatically suspended for leaving the bench during an altercation, but, "We need to review the circumstances of this particular incident, which we will do, after the game."
From page 43, Section VII, subsection (a) of the NBA rulebook:
During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000. The suspensions will commence prior to the start of their next game.
The rules do not differentiate among bench players entering the court during a live-ball altercation and those who'd already left the vicinity of the bench for other reasons -- such as the end of a quarter or timeout. The spirit of the rules would seem to give the players who already were on the floor when the skirmish broke out the benefit of the doubt, but if the Heat extended the series to a seventh game, the league office would have a pretty important call to make.
Posted on: June 12, 2011 12:54 pm
MIAMI – With the Dallas Mavericks on the verge of an improbable championship in a closeout game on the road against the Heat on Sunday night, the worst part of the equation for them was delivered with those last three words.
“Against the Heat.”
Because no matter how compelling the angle of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd finally getting their rings, no matter the possibility of Dallas’ comeback-strewn, destiny-filled postseason run culminating with a title, and regardless of Mavs owner Mark Cuban spontaneously bursting into flames during the trophy presentation, there’s only one angle capable of trumping all of that.
The Heat. The Heat losing. The Heat failing.
That’s what this is about. That’s what this NBA season has been about since LeBron James crudely announced to a national TV audience that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami. It has been about the Heat – either the beginning of a hastily assembled, store-bought dynasty or the possibility of utter, spectacular failure.
So the prospect of the Mavs clinching the title in Game 6 Sunday night and Nowitzki winning Finals MVP, thus establishing himself as 1(b) to Kobe Bryant’s 1(a) among clutch performers of their generation? The impressive fortress of double-digit comebacks the Mavs have relentlessly constructed during this postseason run? The idea of Cuban, who has been fined at least $1.6 million since buying the Mavs in 2000, celebrating a championship? This year, and only this year, all of it shrinks in comparison to the Heat not winning.
That’s right, not even Cuban – who was famously fined $500,000 in 2002 for saying the NBA’s director of officials, Ed Rush, wasn’t fit to work at a Dairy Queen, and $250,000 for repeated misconduct after the Mavs blew a 2-0 lead in the 2006 Finals and lost to the Heat in six games – will be able to steal the spotlight from LeBron and Dwyane Wade failing to make good on their championship covenant.
Not even the culmination of a riveting, remarkable postseason run for the Mavs – in which they’ve come back from a 16-point deficit on the road against the Lakers and 15-point holes at Oklahoma City and Miami in consecutive rounds – would shield the nation from its obsession with the Heat. Not even Dallas’ unblemished record in postseason closeout games – 3-0 during these playoffs, a six-game winning streak overall – would stop folks from Northeast Ohio to North Carolina to Northern California from standing at the water cooler (or the modern-day version of it, Twitter) and saying, “Do you believe it?!?!? LeBron lost!”
So what’s going to happen? What’s my prediction? Same as it was before the series started: Mavs in seven. So if I’m right, the only force of nature that can delay the conflicting analysis of one team’s accomplishment viewed through the prism of another’s failure is – appropriately enough – the Heat themselves.
Posted on: June 8, 2011 8:08 pm
Edited on: June 8, 2011 10:13 pm
DALLAS – Doom and gloom descended on the NBA’s labor negotiations Wednesday, with union officials revealing that the owners’ original insistence on a hard-cap system with shorter and non-guaranteed contracts has not changed during the 18 months since the bombshell proposal was made.
“There’s no hiding the fact that the main components of what we originally received in their proposal has not changed at all,” said Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the president of the National Basketball Players Association.
That proposal, submitted to the players in January 2010, called for nearly a 40 percent salary rollback derived from a hard-cap system that would eliminate guaranteed contracts, shorten contract length and cut annual raises by as much as two thirds. Despite counterproposals by each side since then and three bargaining sessions during the Finals – including nine hours in the past two days – there has been “little or no movement on the part of the owners,” said Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBPA.
Asked if the owners or their negotiators have directly informed players that they will be locked out July 1 if they do not accept these changes, Fisher said, “Yes they have. That’s the best way I can put it. It’s very clear that if we don’t agree to what we’ve been offered so far, we’re probably facing a lockout.”
The gloomy comments from union officials came a day after NBA commissioner David Stern stated that he was “optimistic” a deal could be achieved before the current agreement expires June 30. But given the negotiating details revealed by the players, it would appear clear that this optimism relates to Stern’s belief that the players will cave – not that a compromise will be reached.
So apparently, Stern misspoke when he said Tuesday the owners and players were continuing to negotiate in hopes of achieving a "breakthrough" in the talks. What he really meant was a breakdown in the players' insistence on keeping the system largely the way it is.
"Our owners are thoroughly united in the need for change and also completely behind our various proposals as we seek to compromise with the players," Stern said Wednesday.
But compromise on what? The date and time of the players' surrender?
Given that the players have filed an unfair labor practices charge against the owners, accusing them of not negotiating in good faith, NBPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler openly questioned whether the owners simply repeating their demands amounts to negotiation.
“We just are discouraged because there’s been so little movement from their side, which makes us wonder what their real intentions are,” Kessler said.
Stern tempered his optimism Wednesday, saying the two sides remain “very far apart. … Both sides have moved, but we’re not anywhere close to a deal.”
At the conclusion of Wednesday’s bargaining session, Hunter said one owner stated that he was pessimistic that a deal would be reached by the end of the month – a possibility that would result in a lockout, and presumably an anti-trust lawsuit from the players seeking to adopt the strategy implemented by NFL players, which is pending on appeal with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I’m forced to share that sentiment,” Hunter said. “It’s going to be a difficult struggle.”
A formal counterproposal made by the players last week in Miami was countered by the owners this week – though each side agreed to put these verbal proposals in writing before meeting twice more next week. The first meeting will be Tuesday, in Miami if the NBA Finals requires seven games, or in New York if it doesn’t. Another session is scheduled for Friday in New York.
“As long as there’s negotiation, I’m optimistic,” Stern said. “If we were at a point where it didn’t pay to have negotiations, we wouldn’t be planning meetings for Tuesday and Friday of next week. Neither side is posturing.”
Knicks guard Roger Mason, a member of the players’ executive committee, emerged from Wednesday’s four-hour session and said, “This is going to be a scenario where the players are going to have to sacrifice. I think at the end of the day, owners are probably going to have to sacrifice as well.”
It hasn’t happened yet, and the clock is ticking toward labor Armageddon for a sport that is enjoying a new zenith of popularity and international interest. Shortly after union officials finished addressing the media at the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas, the NBA distributed a news release with the latest astronomical TV ratings for the NBA Finals – which through four games are averaging 15.5 million viewers, the most-watched Finals since 2004.
“The owners say that they don’t want their own game if the players won’t agree to radically change the system,” said Kessler, who also is litigating the NFL labor dispute, which is bogged down in the federal courts. “It’s an odd position when the game is the best it’s ever been, when the ratings are the highest they’ve ever been, when the excitement is the greatest it’s ever been. It’s sort of odd to see the owners say, ‘We’re going to destroy this game unless you change this whole system.’”
Since their initial proposal, the owners have proposed phasing in their draconian changes, a concession that was not viewed as such by the players, since a hard-cap system would by definition require grandfathering in existing contracts that do not fit under the $45 million hard cap proposed by the owners. Stern's negotiators have proposed a two-year phase-in of their new system on a 10-year CBA. The players are not only adamantly opposed to a hard cap and 10-year deal, but also reluctant to accept what sources described as an 8 percent giveback in Year 1, a 13 percent giveback in Year 2, and a 39 percent reduction in salaries thereafter under the phase-in compromise.
While sources say owners have yet to clearly explain their insistence on using a hard cap to bridge the approximately $750-$800 million gap between the two sides, the players have proposed what appear to be little more than incremental changes that would leave most of the existing soft-cap/luxury tax system in place. The players' most recent proposal to accept a reduction in their 57 percent share of basketball-related income as revenues rise was described this week by Stern as "tiny" and insufficient to get a deal done.