One of NBA commissioner David Stern’s greatest talents is his ability to frame discussions to fit whatever narrative he wants floating out into the atmosphere. If the owners are crying broke because they paid too high a premium to purchase their NBA franchises and proceeded to make one inept decision with the team after another, Stern simply characterizes them as ambitious businessman who have every right to guaranteed profits from their splurging investments.
When small market teams threaten to shut down the sport because they don’t have the same advantages as the big-market franchises and therefore can’t compete long term (even though there’s a mountain of evidence that when run correctly, small market teams can thrive just as well or more than big city teams), the Commish manages to throw out a free-of-context example of a large gap between the spending of one major market (almost always the Los Angeles Lakers, who spent about $90 million in payroll in 2010-11) and one small market squad (conveniently, the Sacramento Kings, clocked in at about $45 million last season.) This allows Stern to justify the rallying cry for “competitive balance”, saying that teams should be forced to spend around the same in payroll so that more teams would have a chance to compete.
Of course, what David Stern won’t tell you is that the Kings were in the middle of another rebuilding year and eliminating big salaries off their books at every chance they could get (not to mention their ownership, the Maloof Brothers, were literally crying broke after their big casino expansion failed miserably) and that the Lakers, as you might recall, were the two-time defending champs and fighting for a third straight chip. What he also won’t mention is that there is little evidence that spending is anywhere close as a factor in team winning then, say, drafting well and spending efficiently on free agents. These facts don’t fit the narrative, and therefore always are absent from the NBA’s rhetoric.
The league’s owners have offered a slightly different revision of their last horrible offer, and predictably, the players don’t look like they’re in any rush to accept. And to their credit, it’s a really bad deal (that comes with the expected caveat that the deal will get much worse if the players don’t accept) that offers no benefit to them in the short or long term.
Stern, whose reputation and legacy will rest on the players taking an one-sided bad deal sooner rather than later, is bringing his penchant of controlling the narrative back to the table. His target now: the agents. The commissioner is now claiming that the NBA’s rank-and-file players are getting misinformation from the agents, who’ve long drawn the ire of the commissioner and the owners and whose power would greatly diminish in the more player movement-restricted offered deal.
“The agents have come sweeping in with such mischaracterizations that my guys asked me if I’d be available for media,” Stern said in a telephone interview with NBA.com. “I said, ‘Whatever you want.’ The agents are busy [saying] this is a terrible deal. No one talks about the deal itself.”
This is a clear attempt by Stern to get the attention of the players through the media: Accept this deal, bad as it may be, or the next deal will severely crush you. And don’t even think about decertification.
“This talk about decertification,” Stern said, “would be one last violent effort by the agents to destroy the season, cause their clients to lose the money for this season and destroy $4 billion in guaranteed contracts that exist. Because if the union doesn’t exist, the contracts aren’t going to exist.”
While one could not blame the players for backing down from the threat and doing whatever necessary to get back to work, I’m sure they understand that the owners are in this game right now to exert as much power on their employees as possible for the foreseeable future. Whatever split of the BRI and system issues the players accept now will be the basis point for the next CBA negotiations in six or seven years. Taking a bad deal now just to save one season offers a big middle finger to the future members of the union.
The players have a union meeting set for Monday in New York. Whether they take the deal or not (they most likely won’t), it’s extremely important they don’t make a decision based on the false narrative set by David Stern that he and the NBA’s owners have their best interests at heart.