The NBA ticks toward a lockout. Friday is the deadline. The day pro basketball's business halts.
It's a little disconcerting for us here in Oklahoma. Just when this NBA stuff is really getting good, there's talk of a shortened season. Or no season at all.
I know how to insure an NBA season. I know how the players can scare the owners into settlement. I know how to make the owners want no part of hardball.
The players union should hire Marvin Miller.
Yes, he's still alive and kicking, 94 years old, 29 years retired from leading the baseball union. Still alive and kicking and undefeated in sports labor negotiating.
I have no idea who has tried to hire Miller over the years. But the NBA players should give it another go. Appeal to Miller to sign up for what he obviously already sees as an attack on player freedom.
Miller stressed unity in his 16 years leading the baseball union. When he took over the association in 1966, baseball players had a $6,000 minimum salary and an average salary of less than $20,000. By 1982, the minimum was $33,500; the average was $241,000.
Miller told Sports Illustrated earlier this year that he would tell his union members: “Even if I were the smartest man in the world (which I'm not) and even if I were the best negotiator in the world (which I'm not), we wouldn't have these gains unless there was complete unity and solidarity ... that's the power that moves the machine, not who you have as executive director.”
It's a lesson we've seen played out in sports labor. NFL players have displayed the least solidarity, illustrated by embarrassing picket-line crossings in 1987, and now clearly have the worst labor contract. Baseball players have displayed the most solidarity and clearly have the best deal. The NBA is in the middle.
Miller still has the wisdom and fire to lead athletes at the negotiating table. Maybe not the energy, but that can be found elsewhere. Hire Miller, let the owners know you're taking your cues from him, and NBA ownership would sober up quickly.
NBA commissioner David Stern casts an imposing shadow on his sport. But Stern would not overshadow Miller.
Have you heard all the talk about the relationships between NBA union chief Billy Hunter and Stern, and NFL union chief DeMaurice Smith and commissioner Roger Goodell? The idea that these guys have to have some kind of workable relationship?
“It's important to understand that labor-management relations is not a ballgame,” Miller told the Sports Business Journal earlier this year. He said he would tell his players: “It's an adversarial exercise where, with rare exception, what is good for you is bad for the owners. And what is good for the owners is bad for you. There are exceptions, but not many. It's not in the nature of things for them (owners) to be pleased with me.”
That kind of talk gets ownership attention. Let's be honest; owners know all about their money and pay close attention to it. Players don't always do the same. And the owners know it.
Talking tough and wearing matching T-shirts is nice. But hiring Marvin Miller is like hiring Wyatt Earp to be town marshal.
NBA owners want a hard payroll cap, like the NFL's. Hunter and his union leaders have stated their resistance to it, but has anyone expressed opposition as clearly as Miller did to Sports Illustrated?
“No legitimate union could ever agree to a salary cap,” Miller said. “In my mind, if a union did that, if would be grounds for decertification, for membership to go court. They were not representing their goal in the law: to improve the wages, hours and working conditions of its members.”
Yes, Miller's days in baseball were marked by work stoppages. Strikes or lockouts, in 1972, 1973, 1976, 1980 and 1981. More work stoppages in 1985, 1990 and 1994, when the union was led by Donald Fehr, Miller's mighty protégé.
The sport lost 86 games in 1972, 712 games in 1981 and 920 games (and the postseason) in 1994.
But that's exactly why Miller would be so valuable in 2011. Owners would know he does not cave. Miller instilled an esprit de corps in his membership, and the baseball union won every single time under his leadership.
NBA owners have the lesson of history on their side. They know it's lose now or lose later when combating Marvin Miller.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.