Trusting Guts, Gutted Trust: R.I.P. 2012 NBA Season?
@SherwoodStrauss: Lesson, written in comic sans: Tell people to trust your gut BEFORE you gut their trust
A day after all signs– imparted by two near-ceaseless days of negotiations — pointed to a modicum of progress in the NBA labor talks, a sudden, almost inexplicable breakdown Thursday evening yielded a familiarly tragic face.
With one ghoulish line, Dan Gilbert, Comic Sans scholar and soon-to-be-owner of four newly-minted Ohio casinos, changed the entire tone and tenor of the lockout proceedings. Well, on Twitter anyway. In so doing, Gilbert, who also happens to own the Cleveland Cavaliers, instantly usurped the title of “Quote of the Lockout” from Knick Player Rep Roger Mason Jr., the man who gave us — and about a trillion too many Twitter jokes — “how u.”
“Trust my gut,” Gilbert allegedly told Billy Hunter, assuring the Union Chief that — if the players would simply agree to a 50-50 split of Basketball Related Revenue (BRI) off the bat — the owners would find a way to forge a system agreeable to all involved.
Dan Gilbert, who in the wake of “The Decision” boasted that his lottery-bound Cavaliers would win a championship before the King’s own South Beach troika.
Dan Gilbert, who even a year after the slight continued to bitch publicly about it.
Dan Gilbert, the man who had been bleeding Cleveland long before LeBron James was even old enough to take his talents to a Catholic high school.
Dan $#%&*! Gilbert.
It won’t take long for Gilbert to realize he’s just become Scapegoat #1 in a now fast-deteriorating situation. He need look no further than his Twitter feed’s “Mentions” column — by now so teeming with vitriol that Tarrantino’s already secured film rights — to understand very clearly that, starting now, a third grade temper tantrum punched in a kindergartner’s font will no longer be what blunts his NBA epitaph’s chisel. In an instant, Dan Gilbert rewrote his own basketball legacy, and did so in the most cartoonishly absurd Wingdings imaginable.
But nor will he walk that plank alone. Joining Adam Silver on stage immediately after the talks had broken up (David Stern was home with flu-like symptoms) was Spurs owner Peter Holt. Holt, it’s been reported, fired his own fair share of bullets during the meetings, reportedly telling players they “haven’t suffered enough yet” to truly understand the implications of their uppity Haymarket bullshit. When asked [presumably] about precisely why the BRI talks had gone so south so quick, Holt’s response summed up ownership’s tenor rather nicely:
“There are certain things we must have,” he posited. “So that’s how I’d answer that question.”
Conventional wisdom has it that a handful — maybe six or seven — of the “small market” teams had made it clear during an earlier meeting of the NBA Board of Governors that under no circumstances were they willing to go above the aforementioned 5o-5o split. Meanwhile, larger market owners– including James Dolan, who left the meetings rather abruptly mere minutes before talks were officially halted– remain willing to negotiate.
Unlike their counterparts in Memphis and Cleveland, the beefs harbored by Dolan, Jerry Buss, and others atop the revenue food chain have more to do with system issues (revenue sharing, “Larry Bird” rights, etc.) than with the broader economic landscape. Without so much as a consensus amongst themselves, ownership essentially reverted back to their default position, sending Blazers owner Paul Allen — a guy who has an arena in his house — to deliver it.
Earlier in the afternoon, many a Tweeter suggested that the absence of Stern — as vilified as the near three-decades long commissioner has become — might help foster a more constructive atmosphere. Not so much.
In the wake of perhaps the single most destructive negotiating session in 12 years, many are left wondering whether “Stern the puppet” hasn’t been more “Stern the ego-herder” all along; a once forward-thinking beacon numbed by his own success into beliefs at seeming odds with his preferred politics, saddled with the burden of championing a clientele in whose methods he’s forced to feign allegiance. We may not like him. We may wish he’d taken to Treasury checks years ago. But, with reality being what it is, it’s clear that no deal can be done without him.
Instead, we were treated to Paul Allen bearing the Board of Governors’ “take it or leave it” edict, a move that stunned the Union and, in turn, anyone who still cares about this nightmarish lockout.
“We couldn’t believe it,” quipped Union Attorney Jeffrey Kessler in response.
That makes millions of us, Jeffrey.
Making matters worse, not ten minutes after Union reps had emptied the podiums, the Twitterverse teemed with half-hearted, half-assed platitudes — or worse, deflective drivel — from both sides:
CP3: Sad day for basketball fans everywhere, “Take it or leave it” is what we heard from the owners so here we are…apologies to the fans!
Amareisreal: Good night people, Stay True an Smart. Don’t them tell you anything, study for your self. Shalom.
cavsdan (Dan Gilbert) Now need the Browns to win or will be a rough Sunday all around….
andyrautins1: Thursday. You know what time is!
Alright, just ignore the Rautins one.
Whatever happens in the days and weeks to come, both sides — aided as they are by 21st century media — have made it quite clear that the PR battle will rage on, even if actual discourse is shelved. If that happens, however, and we’re forced to wait until early or even the middle of next week before both sides are brought back to the butcher block, well, you can forget about the NBA trending harder on Twitter than the World Series. Like, ever again.
Where does all this leave us? In the middle of a $#!& sandwich, where one slice is a steaming $#@&!^*, and the other is a @#$%&*!. That’s where.
During their own negotiation’s dog days, NFL players and owners met 16 consecutive days. NBA principles barely got through three. Whether this points more to disparate senses of urgency, or the simple recognition that sharing is much easier to do in harvest than in drought, the NBA won’t be doing itself any favors PR-wise by continuing with the French workweeks.
Which is precisely why George Cohen, the Obama-appointed Federal Mediator commissioned to aid in the NFL talks, was summoned in the first place: To lend a sense of public urgency to a situation which had for too long been conducted in a kind of bemused, half-knowing stupor by all involved.
Then, after talks adjourned Wednesday — the two sides had met for a combined 24 hours in a 32-hour span — Cohen made a beeline to the hotel bar. At the time, many took the act as a bad omen, only to be put at least temporarily at ease when it was quickly announced that the two sides had agreed to meet for an unprecedented third day.
Now, a little over 24 hours later, I doubt I’m alone in saying that I’ll have eight of what Cohen had. And probably more than three days in a row.
Beyond his work for KnickerBlogger, Jim is a contributor to the New York Times Off the Dribble NBA blog, ESPN.com, and The Classical. He is currently working on a biography of Robert Silverman, titled "Clownin' and Astoundin.'" Follow him on Twitter @JPCavan.