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.

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Jim Cavan

Beyond his KnickerBlogger roots, Jim's work has appeared at, Grantland, The Classical, and the New York Times. He is currently working on a biography of Robert Silverman, entitled "Clownin' and Astoundin.'" Follow him on Twitter @JPCavan.

24 thoughts to “Trusting Guts, Gutted Trust: R.I.P. 2012 NBA Season?”

  1. Holt’s comments are why I don’t think it is fair to knock the players’ side for the lack of urgency. The owners were always planning on losing games, since they planned to ask for the moon and they knew full well that they would not be able to get it until the players started missing pay checks. So what could the players have possibly done during the summer? The owners were not willing to talk to them, because unless the players were willing to accept their original offer, there was not going to be any real discussion. So all they could do is what they did do, wait for the owners.

  2. It’s amazing to me that the future of the league is being held hostage by Dan Gilbert whose motivation is clearly to get back at LeBron James, Robert Sarver who bought a team that he couldn’t afford and gutted it, Michael Heisley who is one of the worst owners in NBA history and others.

    I had previously mentioned that I thought the players had overplayed their hand. I was wrong. Their offer of a floating BRI split of 50-53 dependent on revenue was smart and fair. They should dig in for the long haul.

  3. Agreed, cgreene, and that, of course, is why the owners are so insistent on them dropping that and just conceding 50/50 before they discuss system. The players want to negotiate down to 50/50 from their current proposal, while maintaining system (or at least as close to the current system as possible). If they would do what the owners ask and agree to 50/50 before they discuss system, what would they possibly have to bargain with?

    latke mentioned that the players should move on luxury tax, and I generally agree. If they can get that down to, say, $2/$2.50 per every $1 over, just take it. $4 is way too much, but $2/$2.50 is high enough to be a real penalty and low enough that teams like the Knicks will still pay it.

  4. Brian, I agree with both you and Latke.

    Also the players are missing out on one huge factual issue in their PR. The NHL system gives PLAYERS 54%-57% of revenues based on income. The owners keep saying we want the NHL system. Well ok let’s start the discussion at 57% BRI then. Would NBPA take hard cap at 54%-57% BRI???? No one even mentioned that.

  5. Relax, all. Yesterday was more theater than anything else. Stern knew that the owners were going to blow up the mediation, and conveniently excused himself in order to retain his credibility (such as it is) with Hunter.

    I continue to believe that the season will start sometime between December 1 and December 15. The owners have nothing but losses during the pre-season and the first few weeks of the regular season. Whenever you read about how much the owners are ‘losing’ during the lockout, keep in mind that it’s bullshit. Yes, they’re losing revenue, but they’re also avoiding expenses. So they’re actual net losses during the lockout are MUCH LESS than what they otherwise would be.

    Here’s the point you MUST remember: The owners have NOTHING to lose by a late start, and – who knows? – if they can get the players to panic, they stand to make millions more over the next few years.

    Beginning around the new year, though, every day lost creates real losses for the owners in the short term and, we can probably all agree, in the long run.

    Hang tough, Players. Give them 47% percent of BRI (and let Kevin Garnett buy you a dinner – 57%?! Holy smokes!) Agree to an increase in the luxury tax, with a paired agreement that any such taxes paid are ADDED to the next year’s salary cap. See you in December.

  6. Great write-up, Jim (as usual). Awful, gut-wrenchingly agonizing state of the NBA these days, but a damn fine job expressing our collective weltschmerz

  7. To continue the collective bargaining discussion we were having a couple posts back, the NBA is getting closer and closer to committing a ULP. Bargaining over wages IS a mandatory subject of bargaining, meaning the owners are legally obligated to discuss/bargain/negotiate BRI in good faith. If the owners are explicitly saying they won’t meet/reach further agreements unless the players agree to a 50/50 BRI split (de facto “wages” in this case) they HAVE committed a ULP. In almost all circumstances, this type of take it or leave it bargaining is not permissible…..

  8. yes, this CP3 to NY and Dwight Howard coming out about how he’s considering leaving Orlando because big markets offer more “opportunities” is stupid PR on the part of the players. It’s just making the owners’ push for more parity seem more relevant.

  9. Why are the players insistent on pretending there isn’t a hard cap already tho? A BRI split determines exactly what the players, as a collective, receive. That number cannot be changed ( with straight split). So why act like a harder individual team cap is so bad??

  10. John Kenney:
    Why are the players insistent on pretending there isn’t a hard cap already tho? A BRI split determines exactly what the players, as a collective, receive. That number cannot be changed ( with straight split). So why act like a harder individual team cap is so bad??

    Because even though the total BRI determines what the cap will be, it’s a soft cap. Teams (like the Isiah Knicks or the Lakers) are free to go over the cap should they be able to pay the luxury tax. A hard cap would mean a cap on spending for each team, regardless of their financial resources. It’s ironic — a group of billionaires want to impose socialism.

    Nutty, ain’t it!

  11. A hard cap is not that big a deal, its what the actual cap number is that is important. I mean if a hard cap is imposed but the number is at 70 mil or so then I dont see the big deal.

  12. Robert Silverman: Because even though the total BRI determines what the cap will be, it’s a soft cap. Teams (like the Isiah Knicks or the Lakers) are free to go over the cap should they be able to pay the luxury tax. A hard cap would mean a cap on spending for each team, regardless of their financial resources. It’s ironic — a group of billionaires want to impose socialism.
    Nutty, ain’t it!

    I was under the impression though that the players still always end up with 57%. That’s why there is escrow money taken from salaries — to ensure that the number doesn’t ever go over 57% total BRI.

    I think it more has to do with guaranteed contracts and players always having the opportunity to get their market value. A hard cap means some offseasons will see very few teams able to offer serious money to players. Also, I feel like the hard cap package demands shorter contracts with fewer guarantees. This means that while players as a whole get more money, individual players have fewer guarantees regarding money. They want guarantees more than they want money. At least that’s the most sense I can make of it.

  13. When a team pays luxury tax, does that count against league income for BRI accounting purposes? Since that money comes back to the league, for purposes such as balancing revenue with small-market teams, it actually is more like income than an expense.

  14. @Bob I think @latke is right, they’d take away money from players if the total exceeded 57%.

  15. Right, but the issue is that whatever the percentage is, the amount of revenue does not stay the same. And you have to be negotiating under the impression that eventually the revenue will go up (as the league has held very consistent even while the rest of the country’s economy has been absolutely terrible). Therefore, if you sign a four-year deal in 2011, you may be giving money back in 2011, but you’ll likely get that money in 2012 or at least in 2013-2014. While if they effectively cut off the ability of team’s to go over the cap, you’re never getting that money – even if the league has a boom period, because you don’t have nearly the same market. Look at Harrington. If teams couldn’t go over the cap to sign him to the mid-level, what team would have signed him to the mid-level? Having that mid-level market there totally makes up for the fact that he might have to lose 9% of his salary the first year or two.

    Revenues can quickly change. John Starks and Scottie Pippen both signed contracts in the early 1990s that made them among the highest paid players in the NBA. But within a few years, the revenue had exploded and then suddenly role players were making five times as much as Pippen and Starks.

  16. It was a really well done commercial, but also quite depressing, that they feel that the lockout will last long enough for it to be worth the money to make a commercial about it.

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