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Mediation is a good start, but how about a clue for both sides?


Adam Silver (left) and David Stern met with the National Labor Relations Board in N.Y. (Getty Images)  
Adam Silver (left) and David Stern met with the National Labor Relations Board in N.Y. (Getty Images)  

Instead of cancellations and resignation, there should have been resolve. Instead of the Heat-Knicks game on Nov. 2 being replaced on ESPN by the must-flee-TV of Temple-Ohio football, there should have been effort.

Instead, there was only lip service to the fans and regular people who will be the most adversely affected -- many of them paying for the hubris of others with their jobs.

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The two sides walked away from the NBA labor talks Monday night at a Manhattan hotel after the league reached a largely arbitrary deadline by which it apparently had no choice but to cancel two weeks of regular-season games. And cancel they did, which was bad enough. The worst part is how everyone just accepted it as fact -- just took it lying down, as though it were a foregone conclusion.

It wasn't, and didn't have to be. If there were real desire to get a deal and save games -- and the money and jobs that go along with them -- then negotiators would've been back at it Tuesday. And without a deal, they would've been back at it Wednesday -- and then Thursday and Friday, which should've been the real drop-dead date for canceling games.

Basically, they told everyone who wanted those games to be played to drop dead, instead.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who sees it this way. So does George Cohen, the top federal mediator in the land, who called both parties this week and arranged what effectively will be something between an intervention and marital counseling. Cohen, who helped end the Major League Baseball strike in 1995 as the union's lead attorney and mediated the recent NFL lockout, will be in New York City next week to interview executives from the NBA and NBPA and commence negotiations under what he called "my auspices."

"It is evident that the ongoing dispute will result in a serious impact, not only upon the parties directly involved, but also, of major concern, on interstate commerce -- i.e., the employers and working men and women who provide services related to the basketball games, and, more generally, on the economy of every city in which those games are scheduled to be played," Cohen said in a statement.

Good. It's not all about you.

Somebody had to say it.

Whatever the outcome, Cohen's involvement alone has to be more encouraging than another series of bickering sessions between two parties so divided on money and how to distribute it that they set fire to $400 million, the cost of the lost games.

"I'm sorry to report, particularly for the thousands of people that depend on our industry for their livelihood, that the first two weeks of the season have been canceled,” commissioner David Stern said Monday night.

But why? Why Monday when there were four more days in the work week, billions of dollars at stake and time to avert what could quickly evolve from a nuisance into a catastrophe?

Those who've been following along understand that I'm not some naïve fan boy who "just wants to see basketball," or who's going to jump on Twitter and assault your timelines with useless catch phrases. I understand, as we all should, that these negotiations are serious, complicated and sensitive. A lot is at stake. Whether you side with the owners, who take all the risk, or the players, who provide all the product, it's too simple to sit here and say these problems could've been solved easily, without pain.

There are reasonable people on both sides, and sometimes reasonable people disagree. But there also are unreasonable people in our midst who decided it would be better to take the first swing at a $4 billion pinata rather than compromise -- rather than keep working until time really, truly ran out.

Will anyone miss those two weeks of games? Not a bit, but that's not the point. As the losses mount for each side, the financial gap that had been nearly closed will grow wider and wider, until that gap -- like the one involving competition and system issues -- becomes too wide to bridge.

That will be the crime here. And the unreasonable people who kicked the can down the road, to this intersection, had better begin to take stock of who they are and why they are doing it. Because if these negotiators thumb their noses at a presidential appointee the way they thumb their noses at each other, then they must be called to account for their actions.

That accounting begins here and now, with you and me. It should've begun Monday night, when the first swing at the pinata was taken for no good reason, so needlessly.

Negotiators should be engaged in the most feverish, urgent period of these bargaining talks right now, right this minute, all the way to Friday. At that point, a deal still could've left open the possibility for a Nov. 15 start to the season with lost games squeezed into a compressed schedule and further collateral damage avoided.

Instead, we have radio interviews, executives meeting with bureaucrats, more radio interviews, regional player meetings -- you name it. Anything but a deal.

Now, we have the government involved, which for once in our lives probably won't hurt. Cohen has put a bull's eye on the NBA talks beginning next week, and in the meantime, Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver met with officials from the National Labor Relations Board in New York Wednesday to discuss both parties' charges of unfair labor practices.

Whether you take the league's viewpoint that the players are stubbornly holding onto antiquated perks like a $5 million mid-level exception and 10.5 percent raises, or the players' viewpoint that denying them paychecks was, as union chief Billy Hunter said, "all part of the plan" to break them, it is a disgrace any way you slice it.

Again, not because anyone will miss the lost games, but because losing those games will only make it harder to save the next two weeks, and the two after that, until they're all gone. It starts with Cohen, who has no binding authority other than to bind the parties to the concept of accountability. At some point, people need to understand that they're not allowed to hijack an entire industry just because they don't get their way.

So this is just a reminder to those who orchestrated this fiasco that they will be held accountable if the whole pinata falls. This goes for the hard-line owners who want to rewrite history and blow up 30 years of business practices because they made poor decisions or didn't like the way the wind was blowing. It goes for the hard-line operatives on the players' side who coerced Hunter into drawing a line in the sand -- economically and systemically -- over issues that will line their own pockets while arena workers and bartenders get pay cuts and pink slips.

It goes for the owners who want their steak and eat it, too -- such as Heat owner Micky Arison, thought to be one of the reasonable rich guys, who had the audacity to ask Twitter followers for a steak recommendation Tuesday night with games canceled and Heat employees dealing with 35 percent pay cuts. It goes for the players who need to think for themselves instead of listening to those with agendas prattling in the background.

Why have we all let them get away with it? With every lockout, every hike in ticket prices, every outrageously priced pretzel and beer in our publicly financed arenas, sports fans have become numb to it all. Drawn to the games for their drama, fans have accepted a swift kick in the teeth as reward for their loyalty, purchasing power and passion. Being the only loser in sports has become the fan's role, the only place reserved for him in the darkest corner of our games. The people running the games? They count the money and expect the fan to thank them for counting it.

Who calls them to account? In a perfect world, you do. But fans are fans; You always come back. In any event, you're only human -- and thus by definition, and in the eyes of your sports moguls, replaceable.

Maybe Cohen will help. Maybe the NLRB. Maybe it will be a bold prosecutor (or a vote-hungry one, doesn't really matter) in a state like California or Texas with multiple NBA arenas that will go dark for months if these guys keep stomping their feet until they get their way.

There may have been an absence of resolve, effort and responsibility, but those are things you couldn't control. Accountability is different. There should be no shortage of it, no letting them slide this time.

Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com

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