All Hallow’s Eve is close to descending upon us. At this time of year, sports fans normally are in fantasy football heaven, debating BCS versus a playoff system, watching the Fall Classic, and tuning up for the NBA season. No one wants to party like it’s 1999, but something seems eerily familiar: there is an NBA Lockout.
In the spirit of the costumed, candy and taffy apple filled, fright-fested extravaganza, both sides of the NBA Lockout negotiations decided to declare today would be the day the Lockout could potentially end. Talks broke off after 7 1/2 hours instead. Sounds more like a league sanctioned Halloween party to me. So are these talks of the end of the lockout trick our treat? Let’s find out who’s attending the party and find out:
The NBA Owners – Frankenstein
- "I am a bloated economical system of a professional sport."
The owners previously locked out the players after Michael Jordan retired (the second time) from the NBA in 1998. The league was as popular as it had ever been at the time, but the league’s best and most popular player seemed truly content on leaving the game. The majority of the players from MJ’s era were either old or had retired, leaving a league void of talent. Combine that with the era’s historically low scoring, highly physical games, poor offense, dreadful three-point shooting, inordinate amount of bad teams, and the league was frankly unwatchable. The owners decided to lock the players out but the players stood their ground. Not wanting to face the backlash Major League Baseball took for cancelling its entire season over a work stoppage in 1994, the NBA relented to a 50 game season early 1999.
The NBA Owners accepted a collective bargaining agreement giving 57% of the NBA’s Basketball Related Income (BRI) to the players and 43% to the owners. The NBA kept its soft salary cap and allowed a luxury tax system for teams spending over the cap. The luxury tax was not penal enough to prevent high market teams from exceeding the salary cap. The owners also agreed to a system that the Larry Bird exception, which basically allowed teams to exceed its cap without penalty to resign its marquee players at a higher value than other teams, could be circumvented. Certain markets could create super teams by a creative strategy of a player bad mouthing his team during a contract year, turning a fan base against him, and eventually forcing the team to sign and trade him to another team and still achieve the maximum salary the player could as if he had signed with his original team. Meanwhile contracts were guaranteed over the life of the contract and teams signed multi-year contracts with marginal players instead of building through a draft. Teams began to bleed money all while competitive balance shifted to a small number of teams who were more profitable. The NBA Owners created a monster, now they want out of this party.
Jeffrey Kessler – Ghost
- "Am I here negotiating, or not?"
Jeffrey Kessler is the lead attorney for the NBA Players Union and also the best sports law attorney in the land. The only problem with Mr. Kessler is he is a bear. Try and push a bear some time if you ever feel that suits your fancy. Besides being potentially mauled (or licked if he likes you), the bear is not going to move by your feeble attempts. Mr. Kessler’s hard stance on moving on BRI has contributed to putting between the NBA and the NBAPA at an impasse. That was until Mr. Kessler had to leave for Russia on another client matter. Instantly NBAPA Executive Director Billy Hunter and NBA Commissioner David Stern started now smiling and giggling at each other stating the lockout might end today. Needless to say Jeffrey Kessler is a ghost if he is even around at all.
David Stern – Nostradamus/Dracula
- "I vant to suck your BRI..."
David Stern predicted doom and gloom 3 years before the lockout occurred, similar to another stuffy old guy, Nostradamus. David Stern gets two costumes because not only is he uses multiple approaches, but because also his initial goal was to flip the percentage on players. The NBA Owners would get 57% and NBA players’ share of BRI 43%. With Mr. Kessler around that wasn’t going to happen. However, he has managed to bring players down to 53% and counting, representing $200 million a year of the $300 million David Stern claims the NBA is losing. Over the long term of a deal this represents over a billion dollars. Talks broke down when Stern offered a 50/50 split and the players wouldn’t bite. David Stern sure is biting and it appears have the players inching closer and closer to the 50/50 number he desires. Recent reports show players possibly bending below 52%. Congratulations Dracula. Count Chocula also might be fitting here.
Billy Hunter – Sookie
- "I love vampires"
Billy Hunter’s recent actions at the latest press conference yestereday seem to suggest he enjoys a vampire bite. David Stern even sat in the back of his press conference and joked. There is no real negotiation when one party is taking from the other and the party is only trying to mitigate how much the other party will take.
NBA Agents – Ringmasters
- "And in the center ring: high flying NBA talent!"
Fully equipped with top hat and cape, NBA Agents seemed fit to push players to hold serve in lockout negotiations for more money (to preserve their money as well) all while negotiating with outside interests around the world for their players to barnstorm for cash like high flying trapeze artists. The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NBA and NBAPA puts a cap on the percentage an agent can make on NBA players Uniform Player Agreement of 4%. Fly those players at the greatest of ease around the world and the agents are pushing 2-3 times the amount.
Derek Fisher – Underdog
- "There's no fear, D-Fish is here!"
A 6-2 guard out of University of Arkansas-Little Rock who goes on to be a key player on 5 championship teams and then on the down side of his career becomes the NBAPA President. That’s an underdog becoming a hero if there has ever been one. It goes without saying NBA Players are not Polly Purebread. Nonetheless, there’s no need to fear, D-Fish is here!
Kevin Garnett – Wolfman
- "Well... I used to be a Timberwolf."
It was someone’s bright idea to bring in a slew of players into negotiations. Kevin Garnett is a one of the nicest guys in the world unless you are competing with him for something. If he would curse himself out, what did you think he would do with the NBA getting funny with his money? Of course it did not end well with Garnett and others walking out. The strategy will not be employed again.
George Cohen – President Barack Obama
- "I am Barack Obama."
At every party somebody dresses as the President. Talks were contentious in the media and in private before the Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services stepped in. Someone has to be the well thought adult in the room, and Mr. Cohen has played the part (you may kindly remove your political comments here or risk being invited to the party as a tea bag). As mediator he has talked with either side separately and basically has forced both sides to marathon sessions to negotiate in good faith.
Whether the NBA Lockout ends soon after today's Halloween Party (ahem, negotiations) remain to be seen, but I doubt it. The NBA clearly has a few more tricks up its sleeve to bring the players and the union to its knees. NBA fans may want to begin egging and toilet papering stadiums if the madness continues.
- Get 'em fans!
Exavier B. Pope, Esq. is an entertainment and sports attorney and legal blogger for Chicago Now. All opinions expressed are those solely of Mr. Pope.
(c) 2011, Exavier Pope
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