Endless hours of marathon mediation sessions resulted in failure, prompting NBA commissioner David Stern to cancel another two weeks of the upcoming season. Talks with federal mediator George Cohen broke down over the weekend, when NBA Players Assn. chief Billy Hunter continued his stubborn drumbeat of player solidarity. All his skillful negotiations resulted in Stern canceling 100 games between Nov. 1 and Nov. 14. Another 102 games between Nov. 15 to Nov. 28 are on the chopping block, now that Hunter rejected the owner’s generous 50-50 split of all NBA profits, since the last Collective Bargaining Agreement gave the players 54%. Hunter’s rejection of the 50-50 deal reflects the hubris of a spoiled league of millionaire cry babies, long on ego and short on the humility and logic. Hunter rejects owners’ contention that 22 of 30 franchises currently lose money..
Hunter’s attitude stems from his belief that billionaire owners can’t be trusted to show their real books. For the failing franchises, Hunter believes they run losses for billionaire tax advantages. Hunter doesn’t accept that NBA franchises should turn a profit like any other business. He doesn’t accept that NBA salaries have been inflated over the years, making the cost of doing business prohibitive. While the NBA can’t blame only the Players Assn., the agents and free agency market have all wreaked havoc on an already broken system. Today’s NBA players automatically expect to become millionaires for unproven high school or college track records. “I will call them to see if they want to get back together,” said Hunter, getting back to the table after squandering opportunity after opportunity. Hunter likes to point fingers at owners without considering both sides.
Spending endless hours in mediation does no good if Hunter can’t get off his high horse and negotiate in good faith. Whatever happened in the last CBA has no relevance in today’s market, where NBA owners need to overhaul the system to make franchises profitable again. “”But if they still say they’ll only meet if I accept their 50-50 [proposal], to me that’s as non-starter. I can’t agree to meet if I don’t know what is going to happen on the other issues. That is intolerable,” said Hunter, displaying his cosmic grandiosity. Clearly, Hunter’s approach has been: “F”-em, if the League doesn’t acquiesce. What kind of attitude is that? No Players Assn. executive director can be so detached from reality to play that kind of hardball. Hunter’s attitude deserves precisely what he’s gotten: A flat-out rejection by Stern and NBA owners. Hunter needs an urgent attitude reversal or step down.
Already wasting at least 28 days of the season, Stern recognizes in the best-case scenario, it will still take at least a month to resolve free agency issues and construct the new CBA. More hardball by Hunter could wind up canceling much-anticipated Christmas Day match-ups, perhaps canceling the entire season. “What we told the players is that we could not trade one of the other,” referring for a bigger revenue split to continue the soft-cap on free agency, preserving bargaining clout for NBA agents. Instead of nitpicking about the 50-50 split, Hunter should be jumping at the opportunity to consummate a new CBA. He can’t operate under the false belief that billionaire owners use unprofitable franchises as tax write-offs. Given that the NBA already came up from 47.5% to 50%, Hunter should show more flexibility and eagerness to seal the new CBA deal.
Instead of looking at the players as the NBA’s only real assets, Hunter should appreciate the owners’ dilemma. Talking about the NBA as a monopoly does no good for players or owners. Elite sports leagues appear as monopolies but are actually in a different category, bearing little resemblance to utility and oil companies. Entertainment products aren’t the same category as goods or services on which ordinary workers depend for their livelihoods. While there’s talk of starting their own league, players know that they’re playing for the NBA brand. Experiments with alternative leagues haven’t worked in other major sports. Hunter and players reps must come to grips with the diminishing returns of holding out for a better deal. Playing hardball with Stern and the league office no longer serves NBA players or fans, only displaying a sickening battle of Titanic sized-egos.
NBA Players Assn. Director Billy Hunter no longer represents the players’ best interests. Hunter has shown too much personal animus for NBA Commissioner David Stern to consider the repercussions on both the NBA or its players. Hunter has stretched the union concept to the breaking point, confusing elite mega-millionaire professional athletes with rank-and-file union workers. No NBA fan should be duped by Hunter into harboring sympathies for spoiled NBA players or their high-priced agents. Whether or not the NBA’s elite players make fast cash on a whirlwind European tour, the Players Assn. should seriously heed the NBA’s poor profit picture and make needed adjustments to keep the league viable. Continuing the same unrealistic salaries and benefits make the NBA less tenable for future generations of players. Hunter and his reps must accept reality, stop whining and make a deal.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.