This is a sad day for the NBA.
But the league is headed for many more.
The first two weeks of the regular season were canceled Monday night in the wake of the league’s labor dispute. The remaining 20 can’t be far behind.
“We remain very, very far apart on virtually all issues,” NBA commissioner David J. Stern said of the failed collective bargaining agreement negotiations that led to this owner-imposed lockout.
Most saw this day coming. Few close followers hadn’t long ago resigned themselves to the inevitability of the NBA missing games for only the second time in its 65-year history. Few, however, could predict the resignation with which league and union officials allowed this first wave to come and go.
That’s what’s most troubling.
The two sides have dug in. They’ve each drawn the line, and they dare not inch across it. Surrendering game nights at this point simply is seen as the cost of doing business.
“This is what we anticipated would happen,” said union president Derek Fisher, “and here we are.”
All that matters now is that someone gets off their soap box. The clock is ticking. Each passing day is now a costly one. Each passing week now sheds another two from the season. When asked Monday night whether the season is in jeopardy, Stern said “I’d like to think not.” How’s that for a ringing endorsement? He’d like to think not.
The truth is, this season has long been on the brink. The players knew it when their union began preparing them for this day two years ago by imploring them to save their money. The owners orchestrated it when their initial proposals in early 2010 were so preposterous the only place for which the union deemed the documents fit was the dumpster.
“I’m convinced that this is all just part of the plan,” union executive director Billy Hunter told reporters Monday night.
Here’s the worst part. This is what scratch looks like. After 102 locked-out days, the gap between owners and players shamefully remains as wide as the Gulf of Mexico. We’re 2 1/2 months into this fight and only now is the bell sounding for the start of round two. Missed games were the prerequisite for passing round one.
Hopefully the two sides are done sparring and are now ready to move on to the real issues, because there is a ton in need of settling. After months and months of rhetoric and regional meetings, threats of “enormous consequences” and false alarms, make-believe social media hackers (how u?) and negotiating sessions purporting to be progressing this mess, the wheels have fallen completely off. Whatever momentum that might have been created in these last few weeks officially got stuck in mud Monday night.
Now that both sides are set to pay the ultimate price for this labor dispute — missed games — you can consider the slate clean. All previous offers and concessions are now null and void.
Somehow, in less than three months (the drop dead date to salvage a 50-game season in 1999 was Jan. 6), the two sides must find common ground on economic issues such as the overall split in basketball revenue, as well as systemic issues like whether to introduce a “hard” salary cap to replace the “soft” version that allows teams to use certain exceptions to exceed the cap. Answers also are needed on what will come of guaranteed contracts, the maximum contract length, percentage of annual raises, luxury tax on teams, the mid-level exception and the duration of the new CBA itself.
That’s like a triathlon for suits.
As if that challenge weren’t arduous enough, the NBA and NBPA are bound to permit their careless communication to raise the level of difficulty. How’s this thing supposed to get resolved in a timely manner when 1) no further meetings are scheduled, 2) the two sides clearly don’t mind going long stretches without sitting down at the negotiating table, as evidenced by the majority of the summer passing while the league and union acted as if they weren’t even in a lockout, and 3) they’ve proven, on numerous occasions, capable of emerging from a conference room after five, six or seven hours still stuck in a stalemate.
And that’s all child’s play compared to what comes next.
Good old-fashioned get-back.
What exactly did you think Stern meant Monday night when he said new proposals in future negotiations must “account for the losses we are incurring?” Owners are now out for blood. Before they concede so much as the 50-50 revenue split floated last week and balked at by players, they’ll make their highest paid employees pay for biting the hands that fed them.
Players insist they’ll stand firm. But they clearly want to play, and when the first checks of the 2011-12 season don’t arrive as scheduled on Nov. 15 chinks will begin to show in the armor.
That’s your only hope for NBA ball in NBA buildings this season.
If they don’t, the 2011-12 season will go down in the annals of NBA history as the first season to never happen.