There was a brief hint of optimism Monday afternoon that serious progress was made in the NBA lockout prior to the National Basketball Players’ Association press conference.
I mean, what else could have the NBA players so chatty and excited to be interacting with each other, as if they were getting the friendly banter out of their systems before resorting back to bitter rivals on the court.
Unfortunately for myself and other NBA fans, optimism quickly turned into pessimism as NBAPA executive director Billy Hunter informed the media that the collective bargaining process had completely broken down and the launch of a nasty legal battle that could take months to sort out.
Before the press conference concluded, the online chatter was leaning towards pointing the finger at the selfish NBA players for not accepting the latest proposed offer from the owners.
There are no good guys or bad guys when it comes to labor negotiations.
Both Hunter and David Stern have dropped the ball (pun intended) during this four-month saga, but the NBA commissioner has won the public relations battle as he’s managed to paint a picture that has basketball fans believing the players are the ones preventing the start of the 2011-12 NBA season.
Only part of that is true, though the players haven’t done themselves in any favors in recent weeks.
Image is everything and that starts with how the players present themselves in front of the camera. Laughing and joking around before the start of a crucial press conference is one thing, but there’s no excuse for the player representatives not looking the part. Business attire was clearly optional Monday as the two players flanked to the left and right of Hunter and NBPA president Derek Fisher — Russell Westbrook and Chauncey Billups — were dressed like they were headed to class, outfitted in hoodies and a backpack in the case of the Oklahoma City guard.
Stern’s ultimatum last week served as a tactic to have the casual fan point the finger at the players, knowing damn well there was no way the NBAPA would accept their offer.
Instead of ignoring Stern’s threat and proposing a counter offer to the owners, the NBA players decided to take their ball and run to court, filing class-action antitrust lawsuits against the league. Instead of taking a page from the NFL Players Association and decertifying on July 1, they’ve waited until what should have been the third week of the NBA season.
“We’ve done a bad job stating our position to the public,” New York Knicks guard and player rep Roger Mason Jr. tweeted Tuesday. “It’s impossible to get fan support when you’re talking about millionaire athletes. Fans talk of NBA players being greedy. But what about the guys willing to sacrifice their big pay day for what’s fair and just for others.”
Ironically, Mason’s Twitter handle is @moneymase. “Money Mase” could just be a nickname for Mason, but it’s hard to get fan support on a topic involving millions when “money” is in your handle.
Before you run out and call the NBA players greedy by not caving to the owners, you can make the argument that these superstars play in a league that’s grossly underpaying them compared to their counterparts in MLB.
Earlier this week, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp signed an eight-year, $160 million contract, the seventh-richest deal ever in baseball. No offense to the front-runner for the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player, but Kemp isn’t on the same level as a LeBron James, who is only getting paid $110 million over six years from the Miami Heat.
James, who was chastised for leaving Cleveland despite taking less money to go to South Beach, has replaced Kobe Bryant as the face of the NBA and is easily worth more than the $160 million Kemp is set to earn.
Nobody refers to Kemp or any other blue collar MLB superstar as being greedy whenever the ink dries on their latest multi-year, multi-million dollar contract.
We shouldn’t give NBA players grief about being greedy when their collective bargaining agreement places a cap on how much they can earn from owners. A few less millions here and there might seem trivial to you, but once the players sign-off, they are locked into an agreement for at least the next six years.
The longer the lockout goes, the harder the recovery process will be for the NBA.
We’ve been down this road once before in 1998-99. To the league’s credit, the fans eventually returned despite the departure of Michael Jordan and the overall product not being nearly as strong as it was during the early to mid-’90s.
Even though the NBA had record ratings during the 2010-11 season and interest level was at an all-time high, there’s a chance fans won’t flock to the arenas when the lockout eventually ends.
Ticket prices around the league are at an all-time high and with modern technology, flipping between games via NBA League Pass on your 52” plasma television is a better experience than spending $250 to take your family of four to watch a game from the rafters.
Till then, bundle up. The NBA’s “nuclear winter” has arrived.