A few days ago it looked like the players union was in complete disarray. Derek Fisher had been accused of being in David Stern’s hip pocket, players had been begging to play, and it looked like Phoenix Suns owner Rob Sarver could have squatted over a piece of paper and have the players approve the result.
But then the owners, as we’ve been saying, pushed a little too hard. They pushed players past desperation and into solidarity. It culminated in last night’s proclamation, while 43 players from 29 teams stood by, that the owners’ offer, as presented, was not going to be ratified. The 30th team, the Boston Celtics, would have been represented by Paul Pierce, but he was too busy rallying the rank and file for a decertification vote.
Further, the players managed to pull a 180 and put the pressure on the owners again. By saying they’re willing to go down to 50/50 on BRI in exchange for some tweaks on the system issues, the players have addressed the $300 million in losses the owners were crying about and then some. Players have given the owners what they were looking for and have already agreed to limitations that will, theoretically, give smaller markets a better chance to win.
The players stood strong last night and said all the right things. They never once griped about money, they said they’re putting 7% of the revenue back in the owners’ pockets, and they said they just want to start talking again. And in a moment that seemed like some kind of karmic reward, former President Bill Clinton happened to stroll through the lobby of the hotel. He’s in town to hawk a new book entitled, and this is true, “Back to Work.” Players were in awe that Clinton and Fisher (they’re both from Arkansas… their home towns are less than two hours from one another) were having a fun little exchange.
If this was a video game, the players just found a power-up. Where they looked like they were a shambles before, now they’re magically unified. And even though many in the rank-and-file probably still feel the way they felt yesterday, enough of the players are standing with the union, and are willing to decertify, to make this a strong stand against the NBA’s bullying.
Both sides, it seems, will meet again this afternoon. The question now is, can David Stern convince his runaway band of hard-line owners to back off on enough systematic issues to get the deal done. Some owners seem fixated on very small issues that seem inconsequential, but they’re holding on because they’ve drawn their lines in the sand.
The players have flipped the script. The pressure is on the owners to take the victory they were asking for in the first place. It’s up to Stern now. He wanted these talks to end with a General Patton moment for himself. If he can’t deliver today, he’ll go down as General Custer.