At some point today, the Los Angeles Clippers should have been boarding a plane to Chicago in preparation for a Tuesday night matchup against the Bulls. The hype cycle should already be in full swing: media justifiably building it up as a showcase of two of the league's premier highlight makers -- Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin; their otherworldly talents on full display in front of a fully packed United Center. It should have been the Bulls' fourth game of the season; second home game.
Instead, November 7th represents nothing tangible on the NBA calendar. In place of Rose and Griffin attempting to over-heat Stacey King's poster machine, all we have is a countdown. In actuality, it's more of a Doomsday Clock, one ticking tortuously towards David Stern's imposed Wednesday deadline for the players to accept the owners' latest offer, this one as laughably one-sided as ever.
The owners have now had the players locked out from their jobs for 131 days. This lockout has been a lot of things -- chiefly: frustrating, embarrassing, and inexcusable. It's a nuisance that has turned into living with a hardship. You can forget the idea of 'basketball as an escape'; this lockout is beginning to feel like a bottomless black hole. The totality of it is completely unavoidable.
We've already been robbed of a stellar opening night which would have pitted our Bulls against the defending champion Mavericks as they received their rings and raised their banner. All games through November have been officially axed, and you can bet that a great slate of Christmas day games are next. The NBA, fresh off its most captivating wire-to-wire season in some time, is wilting right before our eyes.
It doesn't have to be this way. The new collective bargaining agreement has been negotiated furiously, with the players already offering to make major concessions. No, the reason a deal remains in limbo, and the reason Wednesday's deadline appears so toxic, is because the owners are doing their best Florida-era Steve Spurrier impression: running up the score because they can, sportsmanship be damned.
It's been obvious from the start the owners weren't just looking to tweak a broken system, but to completely blow it up and remake it in their very image. In a game of leverage, billionaires will always have the advantage over millionaires. The players are right to stand up for what they believe in, to not accept a wildly one-sided deal. But, truth be told, it appears they're fighting a battle they cannot win.
This recent quote from Chauncey Billups seems to sum up the helpless feeling surrounding the Players Association as of late:
"I kind of feel like we as a union extend ourselves in so many different ways," said New York Knicks guard Chauncey Billups, who joined Saturday’s talks. "To not get that reciprocated was tough to see. We came off a lot of stuff. We were very, very willing to negotiate. The economics, the BRI, we were willing to negotiate it. Truthfully and honestly, they weren’t on anything. It was disheartening."
Make no mistake, the reason there's no NBA right now or for the foreseeable future is because the owners are going out of their way to act like self-righteous dicks. It looks like it could come at the expense of an entire freaking season.
At the mothership last week, SB Nation's Andrew Sharp deconstructed BRI rhetoric into what it's really about: the billions of dollars the owners are forcefully taking from the players over the next 10 years. Essentially:
- Under the last collective bargaining agreement, the players' share of the BRI was 57 percent.
- From Sharp: "Adjusted for 4 percent growth over a 10-year span, each percentage point is worth $477 million."
- The players have come down as far as 52.5 percent. Sharp, again: "Over 10 years, that amounts to putting $2.2 billion back in the owners' pockets."
In the owners latest take-it-of-leave-it proposal, the players are believed to receive 50.2 percent of the BRI. There's even a vocal group of owners, led disgustingly enough by the Bobcats' Michael Jordan, that believe the players should get no more than 47 percent. Fittingly, that's the number the owners will reportedly counter with if a deal isn't reached by Wednesday.
This isn't meant to be turned into a "labor vs. management" screed, as SB Nation Chicago is the last place that needs a red state vs. blue state war of attrition. Still, it's nearly undeniable who the real culprits are here. As intrepid Yahoo! NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted:
Owners pushed it here, because they think they can break union. Get them to take anything. Don't blame players for fighting back, resisting.
Owners had won labor deal by 30 points but want to keep press on, throw alley-oops, win by 40. Hey, someone's going to give a hard foul here
What's truly demoralizing is how little leverage is on the players' side. It shouldn't be that way. More than any other league, the NBA is about its players. Fans flock to Wrigley Field and Fenway Park every summer for one hundred reasons aside from the talent on the field. Not the case in the NBA. There's only one draw. No one's coming for the stadium, the history, the sun, or the beer.
NBA basketball, at its core, is about stars. That's why something Pau Gasol said recently registered as potentially devastating: if the players accept a bad deal, the NBA could one day lose talent to other leagues. As much as fans root for laundry in sports, very few would be foolish enough to maintain the same level of enthusiasm when the laundry is essentially dressing scabs. Imagine Derrick Rose fleeing to a club in Greece that is able to pay him $100 million more than any NBA team. You know, Rose and his draft class are the ones most affected by this lockout. Rose is up for a massive extension after this season. Don't think he'll come close to seeing the same money his contemporaries were able to bank last summer.
For as much as the players deserve to stand their ground, it's impossible to root against a season. Even if it doesn't come back until February, we still need the NBA in our lives. Of course, right now, things are dire. Opinions on whether we'll miss an entire season seem to range from "probable" to " very possible". In 48 hours, we'll know whether the players have accepted Stern's do-or-die proposal. If they don't, we could still be here for a long time.
Ricky O'Donnell is a writer and editor in Chicago and the founder of the Chicago sports blog Tremendous Upside Potential. He is always very much available for hire. Follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.