UPDATE: They couldn't even put it to a cotton-pickin' vote. I guess sometimes kids have to put their hands on the stove to know it's hot. Sadly, this time it'll mean massive skin grafts.
Ask not what the game can do for you –- ask what you can do for the game.
From the beginning, the NBA has argued that their problems with the old CBA fall into two categories: economic and competitive. All indications now are that the sides have begrudgingly sorted out their economic issues. So, that just leaves the competitive points, right?
This whole thing is a frustrating and torturous process for the fans. We understand that this is a business and that a lot of people are making a lot of money in it, but our allegiance belongs to our teams and to the game itself. We can’t relate to the plight of millionaires locked out by billionaires, so many of us are just not sure whose side we’re on. Luckily, the most recent developments in the labor negotiations have erased all doubt as to who is really looking out for the game and, by extension, the fans. I'm just not sure that everyone's paying attention.
The owners’ latest proposal still puts a few shackles on luxury-tax-paying teams and includes a few other measures aimed at making the NBA playing field more even. This makes sense if your goal is long-term parity. That's good for the game and certainly good for those of us that love a small-market team. It's also good for the players as a whole because, as Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver pointed out in the NBA’s most recent press conference, it makes a championship a greater possibility for every player. While it's hard to assign altruistic motives to such draconian negotiators, it's even harder to argue that the owners' demands on these points do anything but help competition. And even if their only motivation for increasing the league’s competitiveness is to further line their own pockets, the effect is still good for the game.
So, what about the players? Why are we hearing that they're so adamantly opposed to those restrictions? Shouldn't they too be worried about increasing the overall quality of the league they play in? Well, no. NBPA leadership apparently abhors any restriction on player movement. Each player wants to be able to go wherever he wants whenever he wants to go there and he doesn't dig the idea of having to take less money to do it. No matter how they try to spin it, their disdain for the owners’ system demands reveals that the players are only concerned with themselves. And not even for themselves as a whole –- each player is looking out exclusively for his own interest. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Billy Hunter and the majority of players that have expressed a public opinion on the latest offer like to describe it as a “bad deal” for players. They talk about how reasonable they’ve been in negotiations, the concessions they’ve made, and –- my personal favorite –- all the money they’ve already “given back.” There’s one massive problem with that mindset, though: their supposed concessions are artificial. Imaginary. Smoke and mirrors.
The players had a good deal under the old CBA. That CBA is gone. Conceding that you’re not going to get such a sweetheart deal again does not amount to a cash refund. Players are now negotiating against a wiser, more hardened group of owners in a monumentally different market. Five years ago, I probably could have gotten at least 30% more for my house than I could get today. But I’m not going to list it at the 2006 price and then act magnanimous when I come down by six digits. That’s silly and it wouldn’t fool anyone. Yet that’s exactly what Hunter and the players are doing and, to some degree, it seems to be fooling people (including much of the media).
The reality is, the old deal has expired and the players are now lined up again asking the owners for access to an unbelievably good life. As they do that, they should ask a few questions: Will I still make millions on top of millions if we take the owners’ offer? Will it be for playing basketball? Will the new system be more sustainable for everyone? Will the league be more competitive? Will the game be better off? Since the answer to all those questions is yes, maybe ask one more: is this really such a “bad deal” for players?
For fans trying to decide which side to support and which to condemn, we really only have one question to ask: whose position is better for the game we love? The players’ myopically egocentric motivations do nothing for fans of the game itself. Under the player-friendly deal, the game suffered. The owners, on the other hand, have proposed a system that is light years more likely to produce a better product, year after year. Even if their motivations are just as greedy, at least the game benefits under their model. And that, in my humble opinion, gives the overwhelming advantage to the owners.
Here’s to hoping that the NBPA actually puts the proposal to a vote and that at least 50.01% of the players take a second to think about the game before casting their ballots.