NEW YORK -- First, some perspective: There's no need for disappointment, panic, or moral indignation after NBA owners voted to lock out the players Thursday. This is where this sham of a negotiation has been headed for months, if not years. This is what the owners want.
This is not what you want. But they don't care what you want. The owners don't and the players don't. They want what they want, and that's why we're here.
If the players were serious about helping the owners stem their stated losses of $300 million a year, their final salvo in the hours before the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement would've been more than what union chief Billy Hunter characterized as a "moderate" proposal. If the owners were serious about operating a profitable business, they would've folded -- or at least scaled back -- the money-bleeding WNBA and nuked the league's most financially hopeless franchises by now, instead of trying to extract all their pie-in-the-sky profits from the players.
Contracting teams that shouldn't exist, in cities that can't support them, along with a more robust revenue-sharing plan would've been more than enough to restore profits -- and we haven't even gotten to wasteful preseason games in far-flung locales. David Stern's scaled-back vision of an international NBA might sell a few T-shirts in Beijing and Guangzhou, but it has nothing to do with whether the Kings, Bobcats or Timberwolves can compete and earn a profit. (All three can do neither.)
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The only cause for panic is among the worker bees in arenas and practice facilities all over the country that will be shut down for NBA business -- possibly for months, and potentially causing furloughs, pay cuts and job losses. Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver had the audacity to express remorse for such people Thursday, even as they carried out the cruel, twisted vision of arrogant owners who believe their almighty bottom line is bigger than the game.
As LeBron James said after the Finals, those regular folks can go back to their miserable lives now -- except they probably won't have jobs.
But while it would be hysterical and misguided to treat this work stoppage as anything other than an economic maneuver by billionaires against millionaires, the sad fact is that the NBA and its players' union are poised to flush 13 years of progress down the toilet in the name of propping up bad businessmen and preserving a life of luxury few Americans other than professional athletes will ever know. After a season marked by interest, fan engagement, buzz and TV ratings not seen since Michael Jordan hit his last championship shot in 1998, the league has regained all the ground lost after Jordan's retirement -- and then some.
Before today, there were only two universally loathed men associated with the sport -- LeBron and Stern. Now, we hate them all.
Who deserves that indignation and who doesn't hardly matters at this point -- and we weren't going to find out from the creative massaging of the English language perpetrated on the public by negotiators on both sides.
Which is why I'm with Hunter on this point: I'm glad the lockout is here. Hunter actually said that Thursday: "I'm glad that it's happened." Because the two sides get a break from staring across a room at each other, and we get a respite from the lies and distortions both sides have been telling to explain their inexcusable positions.
Lucky for you, the players have decided not to follow the NFL model and decertify the union, so the two sides will be able to continue negotiating with each other and distorting the content of those negotiations for weeks and months to come.
Two weeks ago, union officials spread the word that they had made a $500 million concession in negotiations, which Stern later called "modest." Then we came to find out they had actually moved $318 million and upped the ante to $500 million. Then on Thursday, Silver asserted that the concession actually was merely a request for $500 million less of a pay increase -- to $12.2 billion in salary over five years from $12.7 billion. Who knew Congress was running the NBA's union?
The distortions continued even as a smiling Stern and grim-faced Silver delivered the news Thursday that a lockout would be imposed. Stern said the players' final proposal would've raised the average player salary from $5 million to $7 million in the sixth year of a new CBA. I don't know how Stern did his math, but sources said what the players actually proposed was adding a sixth year to their five-year proposal at the 54 percent share of basketball-related income (BRI).
So with the owners asking for a 10-year deal, the players agreed to add a sixth year. It was like everything else in these negotiations: a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it.
A bigger tree with a bigger crowd wasn't going to make a difference.
"As if this lockout wasn't a foregone conclusion from the moment they walked into the room," a person familiar with the negotiations said.
Stern also artfully dodged the notion that his bargaining position is focused solely on achieving massive pay cuts, rather than the corresponding goal of assuring that all 30 teams can compete for a championship. The evidence is in the owners and players never moving off the debate over economics. There are a lot of good ideas about improving the distribution of money among players and teams, but none of them will see the light of day until the rich people quit arguing over who should get the money.
Revenue sharing? Stern asserted Thursday that his owners' planning committee will continue "full speed ahead" with its plan for redistributing wealth in a league that has, bar none, the worst revenue-sharing system in American professional team sports. The owners' plan will "triple" the amount of revenue shared, Stern said, from $60 million to $180 million. Except those numbers don't add up, either. Stern's $180 million total includes the $75 million already shared through an antiquated and ineffective luxury-tax system, which the league seeks to eliminate.
So the owners' grand vision to restore equitable distribution of wealth would be to "triple" revenue sharing from $135 million to $180 million. With math like that, no wonder the NBA is losing money.
"Right now, as of midnight tonight, we're not going to have any revenues to share," Stern said.
The players? They're to blame, too, clinging foolishly to a system that gives them wealth and power in copious amounts -- amounts that can't be sustained in this post-2008 world. It's hard to be too critical of the players' negotiating stance, since they've been backed into a corner for 18 months by the owners' draconian initial proposal of a $45 million hard cap and more than a 33 percent salary rollback. How do you negotiate away from that?
But also, how much time has been wasted in these negotiations talking about meaningless ploys like adding a second mid-level exception and restoring the age limit to 18? How were those measures going to do anything but make the product worse?
So what do we get now? We get a break -- a much-needed break -- from the pointless "negotiation" that has consumed the NBA for weeks. Will that lead to progress? Only when both sides move toward compromise, which could take months -- and might very well require the loss of games and a toll on the league's image that even Stern admitted Thursday was incalculable.
"As we get deeper into it," Stern said, "these things have the capacity to take on a life of their own and you never can predict what will happen."
Ah, but whose fault is that? This is what the owners wanted. This is what the players were never in a position to help them achieve without losing all credibility. This is where we are in the NBA, from the Summer of LeBron to the Summer of Silence in 12 months.
Maybe some silence will help.