As you read this, the NBA Players Association and the league’s owners are meeting, separately or together (depending on when you’re reading this) to determine the fate of the NBA. It’s a big day. As someone more interested in the ends than the means, it seems like every day of negotiation has been a “big day”, though most of these multi-hour meetings have ended with little to show besides neat catchphrases like “how u” and “enormous consequences“. They appear to mean it this time, though. See, training camps were supposed to start this week, so we’re getting to the point at which prolonging the impasse almost definitely means missing games. And missing games would just suck so much.
[Pauses to weep silently, shiver.]
The lead-up to today’s ultimate showdown has been all about table-setting and letters, naturally. The former is how David Stern described Monday’s meeting, which took five hours. The owners and players, it seems, gathered at a table, acknowledged that they were reaching a critical point, then spent the remaining four hours and 58 minutes of the meeting folding napkins and arranging salad forks. The latter describes the missives distributed (and eventually leaked) to the players, first by a wary confederacy of agents, then by NBAPA president Derek Fisher, which amounted to “don’t let the union heads let the owners fleece you” and “we promise we won’t let the owners fleece us”, respectively. Collectively, their task is to get some positive response from the owners without surrendering too much of their stake in basketball-related income (BRI) or agreeing to a salary cap system that completely stifles their potential salaries.
On the other end, David Stern must find a way to align his factious, fractious owners, and offer something even vaguely resembling a fair deal. The most hawkish of these folks would like the players’ BRI, which was previously 57 percent, to be less than half, and would also like to establish a hard salary cap that limits their compulsion to overspend. Others just want there to be basketball. All told, you have divides within divides.
What’s most frustrating about all of this nonsense is that it’s simultaneously complex and maddeningly simple. For all the numbers and acronyms and legalese, for all the layers on the issue who make it far easier for me to link Ken Berger articles than try to explain this shit myself, the solution is painfully obvious. One side is over here, the other is over there. Thus, they must meet in the middle. It’s just sharing. Of course that’s the answer. Children know this. My dogs have figured this out. Capuchin monkeys have no problem with this. Stern himself hinted at this inevitability, but both sides must hold fast to their arbitrary positions, because that’s just how negotiation works. (Alternatively, if both sides simply refuse to budge, Henry Abbott has the most elegant, if wholly unfeasible solution: donate the difference to charity. Oh, how sweet that would be.)
Anyway, the two sides could meet today and work toward a simple, even solution, or they could get rowdy and complicate matters. Or, as with previous meetings, nothing could happen. The point is that we’ve reached the juncture at which, if we’d like there to be basketball this year, doing nothing becomes poisonous. Right now, missing games seems to be the likeliest possibility, and it makes those of us who love this game want to eat our own faces.
Please get this done. Please please please please please.