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How Did We Get Here?

Dave,

I hate to drag you back into the lockout stuff but man, how did we get to this point?  Are these guys really that blind?  How could you stare across the table, look at a lost season, and not get a deal done?

Perhaps not wholly blind, just afflicted with the myopia that comes with being deeply entrenched in one's position.  Neither Republicans nor Democrats nor any independent party you care to name has all the right answers.  That doesn't stop them from believing that they do, considering the opposition as enemies who are ruining the country, and fighting every time they get into public discussions.

If I'm an owner I've watched years of guaranteed salary go out the door.  That hasn't gotten me guaranteed performance, mind you.  Me and most of my colleagues haven't sniffed at ultimate success during my whole ownership tenure.  I've had players get injured, players dog it after signing those huge contracts, players reaping the largest salaries precisely when their performance has declined due to age.  I've faced mediocre win totals and empty arenas.  I've watched LeBron James' "Decision" debacle where the guy flushed the toilet on the franchise he was supposed to save, skipping off merrily to play with his friends while throwing a powerless owner an an entire fanbase into apoplectic fits.  I've been hogtied, paying 57% of my income to a group of employees...not even my only group and certainly not my only expense.  Losing even a single dollar under those circumstances--watching 57% fly out the door off the top--is going to sting.  The guys who own the teams and shell out all the money are the only guys not guaranteed to make any.  In my view that's got to stop.  There is no way I'm making sacrifices for the sake of players anymore.  Them screaming about it only underscores how little they understand my position and how spoiled they've become.

If I'm a player I've heard owners whine for years, since my grandpa was in the league.  I've seen shady accounting practices and watched fat cats sell teams they bought at $70 million for $400 million plus.  The owners can ride out their losses.  I've got a short chance to make long money and then I'm done.  I've also watched the owners bully their way through these negotiations.  They made up a wholly fictitious starting point and then negotiated up to the current level.  Meanwhile I'm paying with money I used to make and will never see again.  There's been no give and take.  I've given, they keep taking.  Plus they're acting like my father, making all kinds of public declarations threatening to put me in timeout.  They show no respect for the talent that makes this league.  Plus my union leaders have been in my ear since day one that our position is winnable and we need to stay strong.  That's not their fault.  If somebody came in and said, "We've got no position here.  We're going to lose.  Give up early and hope for the best" we'd have fired them and gotten somebody who would fight for us.  How, then, am I going to reverse course and sign off on an agreement that costs me a whole bunch of money and much of my freedom of mobility?  How do I come to an understanding that the money we used to make means nothing now...that the real starting point for negotiations is the money I'm making right now, which is zero?  The owners hammering down the gate only shows how invested they are in keeping me unimportant and powerless, the better to make money off of me.  There's no way I accept that definition of myself.  The more I listen to them the weaker I become.  I'd rather fight than make that implied weakness a cold reality that I have to embrace with every paycheck.

It's not that hard to get here.  The tricky part is getting out.  Everything that either side has done seems to have confirmed the worst suspicions of the other from the players refusing to go 50-50 until late in the process to David Stern's paternal lectures to the anger leaking from the hawk-minded owners.  In a way it's good we're going to court.  At least judges and lawyers speak their own language.  It's not the best language in this scenario but it's light years better than the dialect the players and owners have been speaking.   The change of venue may reset some of the prejudices that are flowing both directions right now or at least ensure that they're uttered from a greater distance.  Even that would be a breath of fresh air in this muddled, accusatory mess.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)