The NBA – It’s FAN-tastic!

Or not. I don’t know about you, but I get the distinct feeling that the NBA labor discord is about two groups of ultra-rich, egomaniacal, and narcissistic people fighting over which side will get even richer through the “equitable” division of a huge pile of cash. This doesn’t feel like my feelings are being considered at all. I don’t feel fantastic. Not at all.

I’m not the average fan. I have to use detachment and projection to gauge the pulse. Average fans don’t write lockout stories on team fan pages. Average fans may not even know what PER, BRI, or STAT even stand for. Lots of them, however, are familiar with the acronym FU. The NBA can pretty safely assume that I’m in the fold whenever they tidy up their sordid affairs. I’m bought in. The average fan – not so much. This is a bad time for a lockout. Rich people fighting over money during a multi-generational economic nadir displays very poor discretion. Some people are angry. Some are tuned out. If the league doesn’t play its cards carefully, some may not tune back in.

The league and its constituents have given people plenty to be disdainful, distrustful, and disenfranchised about during the current debacle. This is, after all, the NBA – “Where fan alienation happens.”

David Stern – He was hated before this started. He is the embodiment of a smug, arrogant prick. Never in the history of mankind may a person’s name have been more expressive of his character. The dictionary defines stern as firm, strict, uncompromising, hard, harsh, severe, rigorous, austere, grim, forbidding, or (my favorite) an unpleasantly serious character. Is it any wonder that the players are having a hard time negotiating with a person whose last name means uncompromising? Stern’s saving grace has always been that, despite his shortcomings, he is a perspicuous and astute fellow who has employed several successful strategies that have grown the league. Now he is endangering his legacy. This is the second work stoppage on his watch. With the personal stigma already attached to him, he really needed the notoriety of professional success to have something to hang his hat on at the end of the day. The view of professional success is unraveling. The ending is being written to the story of his administration and it may more closely approximate a greasefire than the happily ever after I’m sure he wished for.

Billy Hunter – Let’s face it. Not too many people know much about Billy Hunter. That’s kind of the problem. Whereas Stern’s name is synonymous with his behavior, Hunter’s is quite the opposite. One definition of a hunter is a person who searches for or seeks something. In this case I think the something might be labor peace or a new CBA. Is he seeking this solution, because it doesn’t really seem like he’s a very crucial cog? Just as Stern is the principal for the owners, Hunter should be the spokesperson for the union. Derek Fisher seems to be more assertive and visible in the press. Since when is he a professional negotiator? (Just noticed they have a Hunter and a Fisher…maybe a Camper should be brought in to complete the great outdoor connection). Hunter is doing an inadequate job. If nothing else, he should be trying to deflect antagonism from the players to himself to help with their public persona.

Hobby owners vs. livelihood owners - Hardline owners like Robert Sarver, the pride of Phoenix, have embodied a faction who want to crush the players under their collective iron fist. They give the impression that professional basketball should be played in Indonesian sweat shops. Their stance and participation in the negotiating process has evoked feelings of derision and contempt from segments of the fanbase and media. There appear to be two types of owners. One collection’s interest in their teams is primarily based on the love of basketball, trying to win, and the enjoyment that comes along with involvement in the franchise. Who wouldn’t want to own a professional sports team – isn’t it a dream come true? They make money in other pursuits or are lucky enough to already have a lucrative financial situation relative to the NBA. Like most fans, they aren’t necessarily in it to profit off of their "hobby". The team provides them enjoyment and an outlet for competition, and if they sustain an absorbable loss, so be it. The other group (mostly the new owners) wants to have their cake and eat it too. Playboy billionaires with golden parachutes. Guaranteed profit surety. Foam finger waving fans with a tidy CBA deal that protects them from their own ineptitude and precludes the possibility of a loss. The fans face risk every day in their financial dealings, why should the owners be exempt?

Mixing politics and sports – The labor negotiations tread on uncomfortable ground. The systemic issues of the work stoppage and the battle of ownership vs. the union has many parallels to political ideologies. It feels far too familiar to a rich versus poor debate (with the poor people being millionaires) or a democrat vs. republican polemic. Big business vs. union rhetoric. Most people don’t want politics crossing over into their sports. Sports are a haven for relief from the issues with real gravity in their everyday lives. People already have supercilious sentiment concerning politics stemming from the misgivings of America’s fearless leaders. Now is not a good time to be thought of in the light of a political arena. Fans don’t want to hear the involved parties pontificating or sermonizing on why they’re right and the other party is to blame. It feels like political jargon and mudslinging. They don’t care, they just want results.

Agree upon a bottom line – Someone should teach these guys to play nice. People have to work with undesirable coworkers every day. Part of life is making concessions. People don’t always get what they want. The two sides can’t play nice, they can’t share, and they can’t even tell the truth (this is kind of sounding like politics again…). Why is it, this far into the imbroglio, that the sides can’t agree upon the exact financial viability of the league? It would seem that if the owners and the union could first agree on whether or not the league is losing money and exactly how much, it would make it easier to decide a split that ensures the survival of the league. The players have publicly stated that they don’t believe the owners figures. The media describes it as a gray area open to interpretation. With this much at stake it seems rational that putting the accountants to work in the nerdery to settle on a consensus profit/loss figure would make it easier for the other dominos to fall.

Star visibility – Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett. We love them. We hate them. More than any other sport, the NBA is about the stars. The rest of the players in the league are really just there to allow the stars to showcase their talents. The 350 players who make up the remainder of the player’s union are basically replaceable parts. International players and D-Leaguers could be swapped in without a huge difference. Die hard fans may love their role players, but the big fish grease the wheels of the NBA economic machine. Although the stars are worshipped for their talent, they are also seen as selfish and entitled. The reason they’re seen this way is because there’s a good measure of truth to the viewpoint. Playing basketball tends to mask these deficiencies. People want to watch Dwyane Wade dunk a basketball, they don’t care about his ability to undress Stern in a negotiating session (well, some of us like that too). People have no patience for a group of spoiled athletes that is given a king’s ransom to play a children’s game while they toil through the problems endemic to the "real world". Throw in some of the racial undertones the NBA has always battled against in the arena of public opinion (if you don’t think that this exists on some level you’re kidding yourself) and it culminates in plenty of vitriol and contempt.

Just because the last CBA expired doesn’t mean it never existed – The owners have no one to blame but themselves for the monster they’ve created. They made the athletes the highest paid in any sport. They agreed to the last CBA. They agreed to extend the last CBA. The league has given the players 57% for 12 years and the doors are still open. If they wanted to crush the union, maybe they shouldn’t have made them the wealthiest union on the planet. The owner’s stance on a new deal contains a frustrating combination of dumbfounding, duplicitous, and dictatorial undertones. They are employing the "my way or the highway approach". If the new proposed deal is fair, how did the old deal (that is so terribly egregious) ever come into effect? This just doesn’t pass the smell test for most people. Going from 57% to 47% is nearly a 20% reduction - then the owners still want a litany of other concessions. It’s too much ground to cover from one deal to the next. If things were this bad, some of the concessions and adjustments should have been slowly transitioned in years ago. People don’t generally like it when someone in a position of power takes a stance of "you’re stupid, so I can lie to you without compunction and you won’t know any better." I may be stupid, but I don’t need the owners rubbing it in my face.

The endgame – Missed games damage leagues. It is a simple correlation to draw. The exact extent of the damage is hard to predict. Recent examples in hockey, baseball, and basketball show effects that are still pronounced or lingering today. If the NFL season ends and the NBA is still on hiatus, the repercussions and backlash will be severe. I would hope that the principals involved are cognizant of the ramifications of their conduct. I don’t think that angry or apathetic best describe my personal position. I think that disappointed and sad are more fitting. Disappointed that grown men can’t work together given the circumstances and stakes. Sad that their childish quarreling is adversely affecting the lives of so many people. The numbers won’t change, they are what they are (even if we don’t know what they are). The issues won’t change. The public has been inundated with references to the cap, the mid-level exception, the BRI, and the luxury tax. Everything that is going to be on the table is already there. When and if a deal is ever worked out, it will be a deal that could already have been agreed to before now. So now it’s just a matter of inflicting pain upon each other and the fans to determine the threshold at which a deal that could be had now exists.