Originally written on Celtics Town  |  Last updated 6/29/14

According to two separate ESPN reports (and I’m not sure you can label Bill Simmons’s musings a “report,” but I don’t know what else to call it), Kevin Garnett was one of the polarizing forces keeping the NBA players union from reaching a 50-50 agreement (or similar terms) with the owners, a deal that would have ended the NBA lockout. The second report, by Henry Abbott, also listed Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant as culprits.

We’ll start with Simmons’s account of the events, regardless of how tongue in cheek it may be:

Kevin Garnett, who inexplicably turned into Norma Rae these past few weeks and led the charge to fight the fight and stand strong … without, of course, ever mentioning that his agent was savvy enough to defer a significant amount of money from his last contract extension so that he still has fresh money coming in this season (unlike 95 percent of the players), or that a 50-game regular season would be absolutely perfect for his aching knees, or that losing two months of 2011-12 money might help him with his next contract because he won’t break down during a shortened season (increasing the odds that he’ll get one last lucrative extension next summer).

Should someone who’s earned over $300 million (including endorsements) and has deferred paychecks coming really be telling guys who have made 1/100th as much as him to fight the fightand stand strong and not care about getting paid? And what are Garnett’s credentials, exactly? During one of the single biggest meetings (last week, on Tuesday), Hunter had Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Garnett (combined years spent in college: three) negotiate directly with Stern in some sort of misguided “Look how resolved we are, you’re not gonna intimidate us!” ploy that backfired so badly that one of their teams’ owners was summoned into the meeting specifically to calm his player down and undo some of the damage. (I’ll let you guess the player. It’s not hard.) And this helped the situation … how? And we thought this was going to work … why?

Congratulations, players — you showed solidarity! You showed you wouldn’t back down! You made things worse, and you wasted a day, but dammit, you didn’t back down! Just make sure you tell that to every team employee who gets fired over these next few weeks, as well as to all the restaurant and bar owners near NBA arenas who are taking a massive financial hit through the holidays. I’m sure they will be proud of you.

Simmons’s “report” came out yesterday, and Abbott’s was published today. Abbott quotes Matt Bonner later in the piece, who cautions that the entire account of Abbott’s main story seems dubious. “There’s no way,” Bonner said. The players needed huge convincing just to agree to lower their share of BRI to 53%. Offering to take 50%, or agreeing to such an offer, seemed outrageous to Bonner.

“That was a huge point of contention,” he said. “Talking to all these veterans and all-stars, they were upset we went down to 53. We had to sell them on that. I’m pretty certain [union lawyer Jeffrey] Kessler didn’t have the authority to offer 50, and nobody in the room would have agreed to that.”

Still, Abbott published a report claiming that Garnett, Pierce and Bryant might have torpedoed an approaching deal and built a moat between the two sides. Pierce was wearing his packpack, which was apparently a bad sign, for reasons unstated.

As Stern has recounted a dozen times since, not long after what was supposed to have been the hallway conversation that saved the season, something odd and wholly unexpected happened. There was a knock on the door where Stern was selling his owners on the idea. The players wanted to talk.

When they convened, instead of the union’s head, Hunter, or their negotiating committee of Maurice Evans, Matt Bonner, Roger Mason, Theo Ratliff, Etan Thomas and Chris Paul, representing the players were Fisher, Kessler, and three superstars who had been to very few of the meetings at all: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant.

A bad sign: Pierce was still wearing his backpack.

The players had two pieces of news that shocked the league: 50/50 was not good enough. And there was nothing further to discuss.

“We had a large group of owners,” remembers Silver, “who had flown in and were prepared to negotiate around the clock.”

More importantly, they had made an aggressively good offer, the NBA’s leaders thought, the one that might get them in trouble with their owners but surely not with the players.

And players who hadn’t even been in the talks, and who seemed not to be on the same page with the crew that had endured more than 40 meetings, had been the ones to reject the best offer the league was likely to have, and to end the best day of negotiations prematurely.

What in the hell was going on? How had they so misread the situation? And where was Billy Hunter? Who spoke for the union? Should the league have been negotiating with Kevin Garnett all along?

Later the league would suggest that the talks had fallen apart because the union happened to have some particularly strident players show up that day.

Maybe it’s as simple as that. Or maybe it’s much more complicated.

Abbott then went on to wonder whether players were inspired by Lebron James’s decision and now believe themselves capable of acting “fully empowered.” As if Michael Jordan — No. 1 in your hearts, Roster 99 in your video games — was not fully empowered.

“It’s a business revolution with young black men, basketball players, in the corner offices. A new way of doing things, long overdue, and happening now,” wrote Abbott.

“And maybe that’s what Stern encountered in that hotel room in New York: A new generation of fully empowered players who no longer believe they have to conform to much of anything.”

Maybe. Or maybe Stern just encountered a trio of stars looking out for future generations, who didn’t want to sign off on a bum deal.


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