Originally posted on Celtics Town  |  Last updated 10/6/11


The NBA is relatively close to a collective bargaining deal, according to many reporters in the know. One of those reporters, Chris Sheridan called the remainder of the negotiations “a layup.” Another, Ken Berger noted that missing the first two weeks of games would lose the NBA more money than submitting to the players association demands, and vice versa. But if the two sides are so close, why has the public relations battle remained simmering? Is the continued media bout just a part of negotiations, or something else?

The PR tactics of both sides reek of subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) hostility. In his most recent press conference David Stern revealed a discussion held between Stern and the union, in which Stern asked a handful of union representatives whether they would accept a 50-50 split in basketball-related income. The union was reportedly “livid” with Stern for voicing the discussion, which was not an official offer. But Stern’s talks certainly helped his own cause: by revealing the owners’ (real or perceived) willingness to move to a 50-50 split, a move that represents a $1.3 billion change from the owners’ previous stance, while also backing off their desire for a hard cap, Stern put the onus on the players to accept what could be the league’s greatest offer.

Matt Moore of CBS Sports took Stern’s comments exactly the way Stern hoped everyone would.

The players have to take this deal the second that percentage ticks up, and it will this week. The owners, after two years of bullying and absurdly insulting proposals, have gotten serious and offered real proposals which the union can take. They get back a lot of what they want, set the table for further wins in the next CBA, and get the “reset” they’ve been pushing towards. The players and owners both save face. The players just have to know their position and take the win.

That’s what this is. A win. A big ol’ win that represents the players dodging a catastrophic possibility of being forced into a hard cap, a sub-50 BRI percentage, and the loss of any and all flexibility. Theyv’e done it. They’ve held together long enough to get things where they need them to be. They still can get a 50+ cut of the BRI, and have gotten the hard cap off the table.

This situation the players are in? They’re up three points, and the opponent has the ball. The players can foul, lose the points (the drop from 53 where they wanted to stay), and take the win (avoiding complete pillage), or they can try and defend the perimeter. But in this case, the opponent is trotting out a lineup of five Ray Allens.

For the first time, the players are in control. They get to make the decision on a reasonable deal. They can save the season, save the jobs, save the damage to the game, save their own paychecks, their own careers. The owners have moved, finally.

Give the points.

Take the win.

But the players weren’t so impressed by Stern’s (unofficial) offer. In a letter to the union they knew would eventually be published in the press, Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter wrote, “Reducing our share of BRI by seven points to 50 percent – a level we have not received since the early 1990s – is simply not a fair split. We refused to back down.” Fisher and Hunter also said the negotiations are “far from over.”

Then, union executive first vice president Etan Thomas took the hostility to another, entirely less subtle level while writing an open letter on ESPN.com. Thomas wrote a hypothetical piece from the owners’ perspective and took a blowtorch to the owners. Read the entire piece, if you enjoy witty sarcasm, harsh tone and NBA owner bashing.

So why, if the two sides are so close, do we have so much hostility? Why does the public relations battle mean so much, if the lockout is set to end by Monday and then lockout public relations no longer matter? Why don’t the two sides have another meeting set, even though regular season games will be lost starting Monday? Is this just all the regular course of negotiations? Or are the best NBA reporters in the world possibly missing something?

It’s possible, likely even probable, the two sides are simply trying to negotiate and gain leverage. That makes sense. Using the media to help with negotiations isn’t exactly a new concept.

But there’s a resentment in the conversations that, if the two sides are really as close as reporters say, sparks my curiosity.

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