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Who's Right?


"We're close to a deal.  We're not close yet.  We're meeting next week.  The meetings broke up.  Here's the latest deal in black and white.  Now we're decertifying.  They're bargaining in bad faith!  No they're bargaining in bad faith!"

This is a mess.  I just want the answer to one question.  When do I get to see basketball again?  Since I'm not going to get the answer I want I will settle for getting an answer to this one.  Who is actually in the right here?  I don't know anymore.

Good luck with that.  Both sides have points.  I wouldn't call either "right".

Players generate revenue.  That much is obvious.  They need to be compensated fairly.  The owners have been ham-fisted in their approach to these negotiations, all but humiliating the other side.  I throw up a little in my mouth when I hear David Stern saying the NBA has negotiated in good faith throughout this process.  Does anyone else recall, "If the players don't accept this deal the next offer is going to get worse"?  I've got news for you.  That's not good faith negotiating.

On the other hand the players have pretty much the best compensation in professional sports when they're not anywhere close to putting out the best product, at least if you measure by popularity.  NFL players probably don't have as good of a deal as the one the players are rejecting.  Also the players seem oblivious to the fact that the owners are going to win this.  At most the employees are going to gain token concessions to save face.  They're going to pay for those with millions of dollars of lost revenue and several boatloads of lost goodwill towards the sport they depend upon.

Neither side has its house in order.  A surplus of chefs are ruining the process in both kitchens.  I'm not convinced that either side really knows what it wants, nor am I convinced that the titular leaders on either side have real power.  In a way maybe decertification is a positive step.  At least it puts the two mobs under their respective team of lawyers and defines the playing field more clearly.  But that's not "right" as much as efficient.

There's no high ground here.  If you haven't accepted that yet, it's time.  But before we get sanctimonious about that, maybe our ground isn't that solid either.  This is just entertainment to most of us...a diversion.  It's a passionate endeavor, to be sure, for some of us lifelong, but it's an added bonus to life, not its core.  We empathize with the people in NBA markets who are suffering while basketball is stalled but they aren't at the root of our complaints.  That's the fan version of "good faith" complaining.  In reality we just want to see our teams play.  Forget the issues, forget the livelihoods at stake at the negotiating table...just give us our basketball!  We may be as spoiled as any of them.

The sad part, of course, is that the game will suffer for this.  If we lose the 2011-12 season--closer to certainty now than ever--casual fans will desert the league in disgust.  It'll take the equivalent of Major League Baseball's steroid-fueled home run bonanza in the post-stoppage 90's to bring fans back.  Absent a legitimate Next Jordan on the horizon I don't see that happening. 

Anticipation of the florid reconciliation rhetoric which will follow all this turns my stomach most of all.  "The NBA is the best entertainment in the world and we're proud to unite to bring this great sport to you!"  Garbage.  If it's the best entertainment in the world then why is it so hard to fix and why are you losing money on it?  Why didn't you solve your issues before you cost your fans a season?  How did those jerks on the other side all of a sudden become people WE should give money to when you just spent months and months fighting so YOU didn't have to?  You can't crawl out of the muck and sit down to dinner like nothing has happened.  It's going to take one heck of a bath to wash this clean.  It's precisely when the league emerges from this mess that the "not rightness" of their arguments--and of this whole situation--will peak.  Don't bother yelling during the post-CBA victory parade that the emperor has no clothes.  The emperor has no soul and that's a far worse offense.   

The only hope for a resolution I see at this point is for both sides to stop making public noise about being noble.  Give up the idea of "good faith".  I'm intimately familiar with both of those words and I don't see either applying here.  You both smell bad and you're making the whole place smell bad.  All the cologne you're applying to cover it up is just making things worse.  Forget "right" and "good faith" and just sit down and figure out who is going to win here.  Look at how the board is arrayed.  It's not that hard to see the endgame.  Skip the drama in between, concede the outcome, let the victor make some concessions to make the loser feel good, and get on with your lives.

I know it's not right.  It's brutal in fact.  But I'll happily down a dose of "not right" at this point if it comes with a side of "not entirely stupid".

--Dave (