Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Trying to understand the un-understandable

The NBA is in jeopardy.

Trying to understand the un-understandable

Billy Hunter held firm that the union would not accept less than 52 percent of the split of basketball revenue. (AP file photo)
Billy Hunter held firm that the union would not accept less than 52 percent of the split of basketball revenue. (AP file photo)

The NBA is in jeopardy.

How do I know this? Because, unlike the majority of sports fans, I've been paying way too much attention to the current labor unrest. On Monday in New York, the whole "collective bargaining" situation blew up. The NBA Player's Association has dissolved, claiming unfair labor practices by the NBA and its owners. NBA commissioner David Stern responded to this announcement by saying the union's decision to dissolve was a "magic trick" that certainly wouldn't work in the courts. Stern and his owners said the union has long threatened something like this, which would make the move to dissolve nothing more than an attempt to gain leverage, not a legitimate claim that the courts will uphold. (Here's yesterday's post, if you're not yet caught up: Union rejects offer.)

Stern also dropped some hyperbole after hearing about the union's actions. "We're about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA," he said.

Nuclear winter. Huh.

Usually when the topic of the NBA lockout comes up at a dinner party (yeah, I said "dinner party") there are three reactions. 1.) The NBA is locked out? 2.) Yeah, I heard that, but who really cares? 3.) Will they figure it out anytime soon? (vaguely interested). And then there's the fourth response, less common, but disturbing nonetheless: The way the NBA is going, it won't even exist in a decade.

This last one is more of a prediction than a generic response. While I don't agree with the sentiment, it's helpful in highlighting what might be the league's biggest mistake in all of this: overestimating the public's loyalty and desire for the NBA. It must be difficult for successful businessman, mostly billionaires, to believe one of their products is failing and diminishing in importance. And it must be even more difficult for elite athletes, millionaires, to pull off their Beats headphones, roll down the windows on their Range Rovers, and look around with eyes open, accepting that they might not have as crucial a place in the sports' landscape as they once thought. 

The truth regarding all of this "collective bargaining" and "labor dispute"? I don't think many fans really care about this particular scene of he-said, he-said. I don't talk about politics because I figure if brilliant people have been arguing about these things for centuries without resolution, it's unlikely I'm going to produce concrete answers; I'm going to produce only additional slippery opinions. I think when fans look at yesterday's happenings -- the union saying the owners are unfair, the owners saying the union is unfair -- many view it through the same lense as they view politics: nobody is fundamentally right, both sides are simply using rhetoric and propoganda in an attempt to shift public opinion to their side. 

Whose side am I on? The side of basketball and the side of living in reality. It's difficult to spend the evening watching the remarkable story of Gabby Giffords' recovery (nice job 20/20!), watching her struggle to find a single word representing her emotions, and then sit down the next morning and attempt to explain how strong, successful, healthy, blessed men -- I'm speaking of players and owners alike -- can so easily crush the wonderful livelihood offered to them. Why should all of us worry about the mid-level exception and whether a tax team can use it every other year or every year? The answer. I don't think we do. The two sides are so close to one another, if each would just lean forward a few inches, they'd meet in the middle. 

But, nah, why expect that? Not when one side (the owners) wants to crush the other ... and not when the other (the players) has become so entitled it's willing to throw the nuclear switch to prove its manhood, its steadfastness. (If this sounds a little too intense for the situation, perhaps it's because I turned 30 today and I'm contemplating my own mortality.) In talking with everyone around the situation, it's clear what happened here. 1.) The owners wanted a blowout victory. They wanted to win on every single issue. They wanted to crush the players. They're still full-court pressing, up 50, with a few minutes left. 2.) The players were willing to concede on a number of issues. That is, until it became clear the owners weren't going to take their collective foot off the gas. Being the competitive, prideful professional athletes that they are, they rallied. They turned their back on common sense (cause, let's be honest, even if they sit out a season, the deal they just rejected will very likely be the best deal they see in this whole "charade") in favor of standing tall and locking arms and explaining to everyone that they're doing it for each other, that they're doing it for the "future generations." 

So guess what owners and players? Not many people are on either of your side -- truthfully. They're on the side of seeing basketball again. They're on the side of the thousands of arena employees whose income has taken a hit through no fault of their own. They're on the side of understanding the world's current economic climate. They're on the side of the game and they're on the side of reality. But it's clear after watching this mess for four months, that we -- the fans of basketball and the ones peripherally associated -- might be the only ones standing on this side. 

And we don't have a single voice in the matter.  

--Kate


Each week, Kate will check in from the road and answer fan questions about the Sixers. Click here to ask Kate a question or e-mail her at kfagan@phillynews.com.

About this blog

Keith Pompey is in his first season covering the Sixers for The Inquirer after covering the Temple men’s basketball team for the past three years and Temple football the past two seasons.

Marc Narducci has served in a variety of roles with the Inquirer since beginning in 1983. He has covered the 76ers as a backup and a beat writer. In addition, Narducci has covered everything from the Super Bowl to the World Series and a lot in between.

Narducci also has a true passion for South Jersey scholastic sports, which he has covered for many years.

Keith Pompey Inquirer Staff Writer
Marc Narducci Inquirer Columnist
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