Thursday, July 28, 2011

NBA sides not feeling the heat yet No current talks after a month of work stoppage

Photograph by: Adrian Dennis, AFP/Getty Images
BY ERIC KOREEN, NATIONAL POST - Good day. It is July 28th. Do you know where your favourite league's lawyers are?

Yes, we are 28 days into the NBA lockout, and the league and its players' association have yet to meet since all activity was shut down. A report has surfaced that the two sides will meet sometime in early August, but nothing has been announced as of yet.

This, of course, is what everybody expected. During the 1999 lockout, the two sides did not meet until early August. (And hey, why wouldn't you want to copy the process that resulted in a bastardized 50-game season?) This time around, the gulf between the two sides might be even wider, making a starting point for the resumption of negotiations tougher to find.

But just because this is what was expected does not make it right. The NFL ended its lockout on Monday night, after it had dragged on for more than four months. The consensus is that the NFL deal was a lot simpler to come by than the NBA deal will be. Simply: The NFL is outrageously profitable, while the NBA, even if it is making money, has some franchises that are disasters.

If anything, the amount of time it took for the NFL to solve its issues should be driving the two sides in the NBA back to the boardroom immediately. Sure, conventional wisdom is things will not get serious until players start to miss paycheques and games start being cancelled, but that is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If everyone can see that missing games and negotiating into the wintertime is the likely result, they have the power to attempt to change that, to take steps to find some sort of common ground.

Alas, the two sides are doing the exact opposite. Within the last few weeks, the NBA has released its schedule, which just happened to come out weeks earlier than it usually does during business-as-usual seasons. This was the league at its most passive aggressive: "Hey, look at these games. It would be cool if they happened, huh?" The league also buried news of the 4.3% growth of its basketball-related income last season in a Friday-at-5 p.m. press release. That is the time, historically, when press releases are sent to keep information out of the news cycle.

The league is not alone, though. In a justifiably scathing indictment, CBS Sports writer Ken Berger ripped some of the league's star players in a column on Tuesday, saying many have been more concerned with selling shoes than pushing the sides back to the table this month. Sure, there is the talk of a few stars going to Europe - Deron Williams has already signed with a Turkish club - and that could give the players some leverage when it comes to negotiating. Still, that is not leadership. There are not enough jobs in Europe to satisfy the 400-plus players in the NBA. At best, a few stars will sign on, and a few role players will lock themselves into guaranteed deals with no option to return to the league this year if the lockout is solved.

Right now, both sides are engaging in publicity warfare, whether they admit it or not, trying to garner public support. There are two flaws with that plan. First, the NFL is back, and a large portion of Americans will be too consumed by that to care about who is on the right side of morality in another battle between billionaires and millionaires.

Secondly, by getting involved with such petty actions, both sides look from the outside as if they do not care about bridging the vast gap and getting the league up and operating again. And if they don't care, why should anyone else?

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