In looking to find the NBA’s biggest jerk from the past week, it would be an easy target to pick the power brokers in the league’s ongoing labor struggle. In fact, it would be easy to pick them every week for the foreseeable future, seeing as this lockout will surely stretch deep into the summer and fall. But this week, there’s a special reason that I’ve chosen to single out the bosses on both sides—Billy Hunter players, David Stern for the owners—and that is the because of the news that broke Tuesday, in which the public learned that the two sides don’t intend to hold another full labor session until August.
According to this story, published July 19 by CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger, the NBA and NBPA plan only to meet in smaller “staff sessions,” which essentially means that nothing important will get done because the chief decision-maker on each side will not be present.
I understand that it’s July, and that long, drawn-out negotiations in some dark boardroom are not exactly how Hunter or Stern wants to spend his summer. I know that I, for one, would rather be at the beach relaxing, or at the ballpark taking in a game. But please, don’t feel sorry for these two. First, remember the reason they’re here in the first place—the last CBA they agreed to, in 2005, no longer works. Who negotiated that CBA?
The same two guys, of course. It would be unfair to blame the league’s current situation on solely Hunter or Stern (among others, the owners deserve blame for handing out ridiculous contracts to underperforming players and then bitching that they’re losing truckloads of money), but as the two principals in the previous labor agreement, they carry some blame for its failure.
My more pressing concern though, is why they felt the need to call off negotiations until August. Are they going on vacation? The league can’t even talk about its players, so unless David Stern’s going across the country checking out every squad’s dance team, I can’t imagine what he’d be doing. Hunter has even less of an excuse. While the head of the NBPA has stuff to do during the course of the year, labor negotiations are BY FAR his most important responsibility. CBA’s don’t expire every year, either, so it’s not as if Hunter has to deal with negotiations every off-season. So what in the world is his excuse? “Oh well, we’ve been working on this for about a month now and nothing happened, I guess it’s time for a two-week break,”? (Note: Hunter obviously didn’t say this) No! That’s not how it works! What else could he possibly be doing that’s more important? It’s only the future of the league that’s at stake here, take your time!
The above paragraph represents my biggest fear about the NBA lockout: there’s no sense of urgency. I’ll admit, there wasn’t a huge sense of urgency at the start of the NFL labor talks either, but that’s because the NFL’s offseason (seven months) is much longer than the NBA’s (four and a half). From everything I’ve seen and read, the NBA owners seem quite content to skip out on a season, as, for some of them, they’ll lose less money than they would have under the old agreement. That means the onus is on Hunter to get the two sides talking, but if he’s going to skip out on the meetings, then there’s little chance of that happening either.
It is possible that Stern simply told Hunter “I’m not showing up until August”, leaving Hunter no option but to wait until then. But I’m more inclined to think that they decided, together, to hold off until August. And that’s really what I’m worried about. Hunter and Stern aren’t currently in a position to simply break off talks for two weeks because nothing’s happening—we’re only 25 days into the lockout. So the message I take from last week is this: if Hunter and Stern don’t feel a sense of urgency to negotiate, then losing games is inevitable. Every day that they spend away from the table is one day closer to missing games. I’m sure both sides understand that, and if they still can’t agree to meet until August, then there’s no way every team plays 82 games next season.