Fairness Doesn’t Belong, But Is There Anyway

Darius Soriano —  November 8, 2011

“It’s business, not personal.”

I’ve always found that phrase to be both accurate and disingenuous at the same time. It’s usually uttered by someone in a position of power getting ready to impact another person’s life in a negative way or by someone who’s seen the affects of such a move and is using the phrase as a shield.

Right now, in the battle over BRI percentage points and the system that will govern the NBA, we’re seeing the same thing. Owners want a better business model. They want a larger piece of the revenue pie and a system – in their words - that allows them to better compete both financially and on the hardwood. Their hardline stance is based off business, it’s not personal.

Meanwhile, the players argue the same thing. They want to retain the earning ability they, as a union, have fought for and obtained over the past several decades. They want a system that allows for player movement to all teams, with few restrictions on what a player can earn with one franchise versus another. The provisions the owners seek that handicap tax paying teams by lessing the contract value and length of mid-level exception deals and disallow sign and trades by those teams limit players’ options. So, their fight rages on because it’s business, not personal.

These are the issues still at hand in these collective bargaining talks and both sides refuse to give in because from a business standpoint these things matter. However, don’t let anyone tell you it’s all that matters. Because despite the rhetoric stating otherwise, it’s personal too.

Especially from the players’ side. The players are both worker and talent in this equation. Any bargaining point that speaks to their value is not only a business move, but one that is tied directly to their worth as people who provide this specialized service. It’s cliche, but there’s nothing more personal than the time and effort the players put into improving their games (and as a result, an improvement to themselves). The counter point is that there are guys like Eddy Curry or Baron Davis (or many others) that don’t take that improvement seriously; that rest on their laurels after their signature assures them millions of dollars. But for every Baron or Curry, there’s a Kobe, Durant, Rose, Dirk, etc, etc that do take it seriously. On twitter it’s become a punch line to read “rise and grind” tweets by athletes that make claims of going to the gym to work out or improve their game(s). But just because it’s repetitive and a bore to read, doesn’t mean it’s not actually happening. Most of these guys care and want to improve; basketball is their lifeblood and with careers short and the majority of them not guaranteed a huge payday the work must be put in.

This is why fairness has become a word that’s crept into the lexicon being thrown out by the players. In the press conference following Saturday’s (again) failed bargaining session, Derek Fisher said:

We expressed as we have the entire time … if we continue to try to meet you on the economics we need a fair system. We made the moves that we needed to make to get this deal done based on the economics…they call it 51-49, but it’s really 50, with a system that is not a fair system, so that’s obviously very frustrating for us.

Fairness is a tricky concept, though. Especially when business is involved. That’s because business is about leverage. Negotiations are about what you can get the other side to agree to. What’s fair takes a backseat to what is and is not achieveable and readjusting your position based off your conclusions.

This is why the players have continued to move in these negotiations, conceding on issue after issue and handing over BRI points at nearly every meeting. They’re not doing that because they think it’s fair, they’re doing it because the owners strength and leverage in the talks demands it. If one thing is clear it’s that the players understand the path to a deal has been in moving towards the owners, not the opposite.

But when is enough, enough? When do you expect the group on the other side of the bargaining table to meet you halfway and how does that affect the tenor of the negotiation?

The answers are, we’re there and we’re seeing it now.

At this point, I can’t blame the players for holding out for the last few things that matter to them. Because even though I don’t think the concept of fairness belongs in these talks, the fact is that concept is firmly in place. The players have (seemingly) given all they can give and as the owners continue to take it’s now beyond discouraging. Understand the framework of a deal is usually put into terms of “what both sides can live with.” But, if you’re on the side that’s given nearly everything in the negotiation and the other side has simply asked for more, “living with” yourself becomes harder, no? I mean, these players have to go back and work for these teams and give their all in an effort to win in an environment that’s surely tainted by these negotiations.

It’s very much true that we’re at the time where a deal will either be made or the season is in jeaopardy. Stern’s deadline for the union to accept the offer on the table is tomorrow at the close of business and today the player reps from each team huddle in New York for a strategy session on how to proceed. And while I hope both the owners and players will meet one last time to iron out the final disputed issues, that’s no guarantee.

Just understand that whatever comes from this, whether you agree with it or not, fairness is an issue in these talks. I just hope that both sides find that middle ground where they can salvage this thing.

Darius Soriano

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20 responses to Fairness Doesn’t Belong, But Is There Anyway

  1. The players need what- 500-700 million to finance a season on their own? Get this from one to a few of the many billionaires in the world. TV money would be reluctant but would eventually come through more than covering the costs. Start with 16 teams in the soundest cities with available arenas. Probably half the players would follow players like Lebron, Howard, Rose, into a coop league. Get 75% of the best players and all real fans would know the NBA is a hollow second. Keep the cities’ teams there as is and augment with a supplemental draft from other teams- more stars per team. Play 4 or 5 exhibition games and then a 45-game (short) season. It can be an experiment this season with a possible future. Even the planning of this with talks to potential angel investors would provide tremendous leverage. Players need to own the league some time-why not now. The irony of MJ leading the obstinate owners into causing a new league owned by player?–priceless.

  2. clover’s argument doesn’t address the challenges inherent to starting a player-run league. While noble in theory, it makes one hearken back to the time 15 years or so ago when Pearl Jam decided it didn’t like the concert ticket sales monopoly so it tried to take on Ticketmaster.

    Pearl Jam wound up trying to hold shows in muddy fields because there were no arenas in which it could perform.

    How would you propose staging a nearly billion-dollar player-run league in NBA cities when the NBA owners have control over the only suitable venues most such cities could offer?

    Even if a secondary arena was on the table in a certain market, it’s not as though those are just lying around idle each night. Now you’re talking about cooridnating pro basketball games within the Disney on Ice or Miley Cyrus concerts, the craft fesivals and gun shows and whatever else such smaller places use to draw customers.

    No TV deal, no uniforms, no one to book the hotels, run the scoreboard, sell ticket packages… it’s just not as simple as you suggest to start a new league, let alone expect fans and TV ad buyers and corporate sponsors to break their existing allegiances to the NBA, hoping all the while that the real NBA will be back soon anyway.

  3. The reason another league won’t happen is because the owners of the new league understand as soon as this new league pop up the n
    NBA owners would imidiatley meet everyone of the players demands and the lockout would be over. There would be no salary caps or BRI splits. It would be a free capital market league.

  4. The new league would need signed contracts by the players that they would not come back to the NBA.

  5. Fantastic must-read piece:

    http://www.ocregister.com/articles/fisher-325928-nba-job.html

    He may be frustrating as a player, but I have the utmost respect for Fisher as an overall professional. When you compare him to Patrick Ewing or other union presidents, he’s leaps and bounds ahead of all the others.

  6. Tell me the owners don’t have a plantation mentality. From ESPN:

    “It’s sad,” one ownership source said. “I think they’ve seen their best offer.”

  7. @5 – Much agree about the OC article and the role of Derek – he’s been an incredibly dedicated and proactive union president.

    Also, have to give credit right here – a thought-provoking piece on the issues of fairness and morality.

  8. David Stern has vastly overplayed his hand. As you say Darius, what’s fair and what one can get are not always the same. I think the more pertinent question is what you can live with and I think the players are probably near that point. I really think, again from living overseas, that there are vast opportunities for players there and they would be welcomed by leagues wanting to raise their stature. For those who don’t wanna go overseas, I think the players are damned if they’re gonna let Stern do his patronizing massa act. He’s really an authoritarian megalomaniac and the racial dimension of the CBA makes it all the more unpleasant to see and makes me root 100 x harder for the players. I don’t wanna suggest that another league wouldn’t work. I think if enough players were on board and potential funders could see so many big-name players were on board, that would be a good basis on which to build another league. I think it could happen. I think the players would rather gnaw off their arms and than submit to this sort of racially-tinged bullying from Stern.

  9. I don’t see the plantation comparison whatsoever. Bosses everywhere take hard lines with white, black, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian employees. They’re a-holes, it’s what they do. But the slavery comparison? These athletes are getting paid an average five million dollars a year! To play a game! No one’s holding them against their will.

    It’s disrespectful to the people who actually went through slavery to make the comparison, and it’s disrespectful of Kessler to throw that comparison out there in hopes of manipulating his largely black constituency.

  10. (1) Wojo from Yahoo is probably on Stern’s payroll. He was predicting player collapse early on. I am not fan of censorship, but why people continue to cite his pieces simply boggles the mind.

    (2) For the NBA players, if you have to miss the season, do so. For why, in two words: Eric Dickerson. They didn’t want to pay him either. End up losing him after a while and the team as well, when the you know who moved the team out of LA.

    (3) For the NBA fan, again, two words: Eric Dickerson. Lost him and the team. The owners have no loyalty. To them all you are is this sign: $.

    (4) For Dan Gilbert: To tell the truth, I’m not excited to go to Cleveland, but we have to. If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying.–Ichiro Suzuki. Thus, as much as I am not his biggest fan, it wasn’t LeBron, was Cleveland.

    (5) Why should there be parity? The NFL does not have parity. Instead, the NFL has a vast sea of mediocrity. Reminds me of this material: Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Tuesday the Tour has achieved absolute parity, a comment that, when posted on the Tour’s website, elicited comments like “Parity is boring,” “Parity is mediocrity,” and “Where is our next Tiger already?” Such explains why, all due respect to our friends in NYC, basketball is remembered for the Celts, the Lakers, the Bulls and the Spurs. The league had to be rescued by the Celts and Lakers precisely because it was a vast sea of mediocrity. Well, that and nobody cares about Seattle (who remembers their back to back Finals appearances?). The casual basketball fan doesn’t. But he/she does know of the old Celts and Lakers, the revived Celts and Lakers, the Chicago Bulls, the Lakers, the Spurs, and the Lakers yet again. And if you don’t believe me, ask Wikipedia:

    1.2 1947–1956: The Early Years and Lakers Dynasty
    1.3 1957–1969: The Celtics Dynasty
    1.4 1970–1979: Decade of Parity
    1.5 1980–1990: Celtics-Lakers Rivalry
    1.6 1991–1998: The Bulls Dynasty
    1.7 1999–2010: Lakers/Spurs era

    See, there’s a black hole there that no one cares about. The Decade of Parity. And so if it comes down to greatness or vast sea of mediocrity, Charlotte fans can watch NBA on NBA TV for all I care. Sorry, Charlotte, but you’re not worth ruining greatness over. Lastly, well and truly, for the soul who mentioned somewhere here on FB&G that this isn’t about parity as the same is the meme used to delude the small market fans, absolutely.

    Sorry, I lied, and so bonus freebie:

    http://articles.businessinsider.com/2010-11-11/sports/30099493_1_nba-owners-revenue-nba-executives

  11. Fisher has long been the worst PG in the NBA but will soon go down as the best player rep to date.

  12. If they want to talk about plantations, what does that make Michael Jordan?

  13. Glad that the players are standing tall, for how long I dont know, it just seems like the right thing to do in these circumstances. I guess I will have to satisfy my jones for the pill at the college level until the coast is clear.

    I have been the most upset about the lack of creativity involved in making a deal that both sides can agree upon. It seems that the same old ideas are being volleyed back and forth with no forward thinking present. The deal owners are pushing is just too black and white with no gray areas. The take it or leave it approach is old school dealing with a generation that can stream a game from a single location on this earth to millions of people worldwide. It just goes to show how much thought ownership truly has put forth in making this seaon a reality.

    New and refreshing ideas are needed taking pieces from the NFL, NHL, MLB inturn creating a system that will allow for growth now and in the future. Basketball is the second most popular sport in the world behind soccer, it is time the league acts like it.

    “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them” Albert Einstein

  14. DirtySanchez,
    Your comment that basketball is the 2nd most popular sport in the world should really give the NBA owners pause.

    That means there will certainly be more competition for them in the future. By burning their bridges now, they are laying the foundation for inroads by their overseas competitors later.

    In fact, the overseas owners could invest now in a small league here that would compete with teams in other hemispheres. That possibility should really scare the small market NBA owners.

    Prokhorov isn’t the only wealthy person outside the U.S.

  15. Craig W – thatswhatimsaying. The NBA arrogantly believes that it’s the only game in town and I bet that agents phones are being blown up with inquiries – and increasingly attractive deals – from across the globe. If Stern thinks that there won’t be long-term egg on his face if the players stand united and show that their basketball skills and popularity will stand up elsewhere, he’s even more stupider than I think.

  16. All the players would need is one venue in said big city(Vegas). A starting point would be a downsized sixteen team players league that is all played at one venue back to back(8 games total per day two games a week per team on different days eclipsing every time zone in the world). Almost like a college march madness atmosphere, action all day long. Teams would play each team 3 times(48 game season) over 4 months. Playoffs seeded in order of finish, venue changed to different parts of the world per round. Could be in China first round, Puerto Rico second, Australia third round, Hawaii finals.

    If the owners are not going to move off their golden egg to let it hatch, its time for the players to get creative. Who wouldnt watch the best ballers in the world compete against each other in a wild west type standoff two times a week, it would be must see tv.

  17. Parity would result in a watered down and less valuable product affecting all teams. Stern knows this, and in the next week has to have the balls to face down the hawks. Yes to a more equitable sharing of revenue,and No to parity and a watered down league.

  18. I was just over at PBT–I am guessing that Kurt either doesn’t read most of the comments or just laughs at them. Amazingly silly stuff there.

  19. The ideas here are nice, but the reality is that the players need the league, and the league needs the players.

    Note that I said LEAGUE, not owners. The owners, with rare exceptions, are replaceable.

    But the league provides a social, historical and geographic context that the players can’t reaplicate. In addition, as noted, starting a new league would be an enormously difficult undertaking logistically.

    I agree, though, that the player should use the duration of a new CBA to lay some groundwork.

    Assuming they agree.