Today, after 8 days since their last meeting, the owners and players will resume talking about how to kick fans in the stomach again divide the league’s revenues and what system the league should operate under in order to bring the NBA back. As we’ve discussed in this space before, the sides are pretty close to a deal and only need to hammer out the details on the last few, yet significant, issues.
However, in the lead up to these talks, the rhetoric and positioning has only ramped up and become more strategic. Howard Beck is reporting that Michael Jordan leads a group of 10-14 hardline owners that will not go above a 50/50 split on BRI and would actually prefer the owners get a bigger piece of the pie in any agreement. Jordan taking such a strong approach can be seen as hypocritical as he has a history of saying some things about NBA ownership that mirror today’s players position. Or, Jordan can simply be taking a turncoat position and looking out for his own interests (it’s not like that would be out of character for MJ). Either way, the significance of Jordan being trotted out as the face of this movement is interesting to me because he is the lone owner that has a true history with the players the owners now oppose. His Jumpman brand is endorsed by several of today’s top players. He competed against many of these guys both as a Bull and a Wizard and the ones that weren’t yet in the league during his career likely see MJ as an idol. They know Jordan as the ruthless winner that always comes out on top, so for the owners to position him as a key cog in how these talks proceed surely has some psychological advantages.
That said, it’s not like the players are simply going to back down without making their last big stand in these negotiations. On Friday, reports surfaced of a conference call between players and lawyers with the union decertification being the main topic of discussion. The reports further state that a group of 50 players are seriously considering pushing for decertification – a measure that would disband the union for the purposes of filing an anti-trust lawsuit that could lift the lockout. Decertification would be the “nuclear” option as it would put this entire process into the hands of the courts and away from both sides’ leaders. Up until this point in the process the union has vehemently denied that decertification would be an option they’d explore. However, as the talks have progressed and the owners seemingly negotiating in a manner where offers are made, taken away, then put back on the table under the guise of “progress” and “concessions”, this small sect of players seem to be sick of it and are willing to take this step.
So, as talks continue with both sides showing their fangs to the media and putting on a public display of strength, we fans continue to sit and wait for the word that there’s a breakthrough. But, the same questions still run through my mind. Will the owners give anything back that can allow the players to save some face in these talks? Will the players finally succumb to the owners demands by giving everything the owners want by effectively folding? Will the return of the mediator keep both sides honest in these negotiations? The answers to these questions could prove to be the difference between a deal being made over the next couple of days or us not having an NBA season at all.