Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Sincere Plea to Leadership

Dear David and Billy,

During the last several months, I have followed every step of the labor negotiations religiously, all the while hoping earnestly for the parties to reach an agreement for the good of the game we love. Yesterday was a sad, dark day for all of us who have been lifelong, avid NBA fans, as I know it must have been for the two of you. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You two have the power to reverse the current cataclysmic course and save the game that is bigger than any of us. On behalf of all who truly love the game, I respectfully ask that you please pick up the phone and do that today.

Billy, the previous CBA favored the players to the point of putting the long-term financial well-being of the league -- or at least many of its members -- in real peril. While it’s always difficult to "give back" something you have had before, it has to be done for the good of the game. Moreover, changes to the previous system were also absolutely necessary to create more competitive balance. When you level the playing field so that every team has a reasonable opportunity to compete, you have a better league. That benefits everyone: owners, players, and fans alike. Regardless of any so-called concessions, the players still have the best job in the world. C.S. Lewis said “pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” If you could shift the focus away from what the players have "given up" to what they still have, you could dramatically alter their current attitudes and perspectives.

David, the owners need to have a more clear understanding that in addition to having an asset on their books, ownership of a professional sports franchise represents a sacred stewardship of the public trust (see Larry H. Miller). The players aren’t a commodity or a product, but partners in a remarkable enterprise that blesses countless lives. The owners have a responsibility to safeguard the game, which means they can’t allow themselves to be blinded by self-interest and run roughshod over their partners. Even if you win in the courts and ultimately get a lopsided agreement -- which is likely to happen -- it’s a hollow victory because players will be even more resentful than they are now and the fans will be even more beleaguered and conflicted, or worst of all, apathetic.

The bottom line is that you need each other, you need us, and we need you. Please communicate with each other today and finalize the agreement that you’ve both worked so long and hard to achieve and that is so close at hand. Imagine what it would mean to people everywhere, both in and out of the NBA, if you would put aside all of the threats, rhetoric, lawsuits, egos, and anger and simply come together. Stand shoulder to shoulder and say we apologize for letting things get to this point but we are not going to let the game be devastated on our watch. You both have the wisdom and experience to know what a fair deal looks like, so draw it up and tell your respective constituents that this is how it’s going to be. If anyone votes against it, their selfish motives will be revealed for the entire world to see.

You are both understandably worried about losing face or appearing weak if you bend now or don’t follow through on your threats and ultimatums. Nothing could be further from the truth; humility is not a mortal weakness. Please have the moral courage to do what’s in the best interest of owners, players, and fans -- not to mention the hosts of people whose livelihoods depend on the NBA or the country that could use a shot in the arm. Make a deal now and start the season. By doing this, you will uplift and inspire many and cement your respective legacies as true leaders and champions of the game.


Christopher J. Ashby

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