You can go ahead and hit the Union’s theme music. It’ll fit the tone of this thing better.
Last night somewhere around 1 a.m., talks broke for what might be the last time. There was talk of a 72 game season. There was talk of this essentially being the last, best offer the NBA had. And there was Billy Hunter talking about this not being the best deal in the world, but he’s obligated to present it to his union. It was a tired and defeated Hunter resigning himself to take a bad deal back to the players for a vote. It’s a moment we all should have seen coming all along.
This lockout was years in the making. Fans were warned LAST summer that a lockout was in the offing. But it didn’t look like the players were prepared for it. Either that or they didn’t care. And that’s why we’re here. That’s why players are probably going to take a deal they said they wouldn’t take. The anger is directed squarely at Billy Hunter.
But players should also be blaming themselves. Because instead of being an organized group with a set plan of attack, they were a disheveled mess that, as usual, was off pursuing self interests. Instead of on July 1, when the lockout took effect, launching into a coordinated media blitz and utilizing its star power to force the NBA’s hand, guys were off on barnstorming tours and enhancing their own personal brands. You can’t go to China and hold pandas, then tweet “let us play” a couple of times and think you’re doing something.
Where was Kobe Bryant on PTI? Where was LeBron James on Jim Rome? Where was Kevin Durant on ESPN Radio? These are superstars with the kind of pull to sway public sentiment. The best players on every team should have been all over the TV and Radio in those teams’ cities. They should have all had the same talking points, espousing the same message, putting the pressure on NBA owners to get a deal done sooner rather than later.
But players didn’t do that. They, instead, chose to have their regular off-seasons and put on some ridiculous barnstorming shows. They pissed away any advantages they had by letting everyone run off and do their thing for three months. By the time Dwyane Wade yelled at Stern and Kevin Garnett stared down owners, it was too late. The guys that matter, the mid-level guys, were already too pissed off and too anxious to play. There weren’t enough jobs in Europe, and those that were there actually sucked more than players spoiled by the NBA’s amenities thought they would.
And don’t think I’m letting Hunter off the hook here because this is his job. He’s the guy that should have been organizing this. He’s the guy who should have written the scripts, and coached the players, and coordinated the media attacks. He’s the one who should have said “meetings by this day and decertification by this day.” But he didn’t. He let the players walk all over him. And as teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers found out, when you let star players walk all over you, the end up with no respect for you.
This CBA was always going to tilt back to the owners’ side. The 57/43 split was never going to last. But with the right moves, with the right leadership, with the right participation, they could have maybe stayed at 52 or 53. They might have been able to save some systematic issues that they now fear will limit players’ abilities to play in bigger markets. They might have actually had a fair shot in these talks.
There’s never any fight anywhere that can be won with disorganization. Ask Mike Tyson. Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher failed the players and the star players failed them. It’s possible the union will reject this without a vote, decertify and blow out the season. But it’s more likely that these guys will hang their heads and accept a bad deal because it’s still the best deal they’re going to get. Hunter is as good as gone. And the union should have some soul searching to do. That is, if they actually care about anyone else like they’ve claimed for so long. But their actions scream the truth. The league’s stars will always care about themselves first.