When Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher and 60 some-odd players stood behind a podium Monday afternoon after a players’ meeting, most expected them to announce they’d be putting the league’s proposal to a vote. Or at least, announce they’re making a counter.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, it was doomsday.
I think you, probably like me, were left wondering one thing: Why? What are the players thinking? The chances of them actually winning a lawsuit are slim. The chances of them recouping their losses in a new collective bargaining agreement are probably even slimmer. And yet instead of pushing forward and trying to push the pressure back on the league and owners to accept their revised deal, they decided to blow it up. They didn’t even try and mask it. During their press conference they even said that. They wanted to completely detonate the current negotiations.
Because players are emotional. This isn’t a negotiation anymore. It’s a fight. The owners have always tried to approach this as a business deal and the players met them on that — until now. Consider this quote from Kevin Durant over the weekend:
“I know we get paid handsomely but we deserve to fight for something that’s right,” he told HoopsWorld. “We feel that they’re trying to strong-arm us and back us into a corner just to accept the deal. Of course they’re going to bluff and show the fans, try to put the fans against us like they’re the good guys and we’re the bad guys.
“I think getting what you deserve and fighting for something you believe is right is something all the players really care about,” he continued. “Of course we enjoy the fans, we like the fans that come and support us. They’re the reason why we’re playing this game, the reason why we continue to play this game but at some point you have to fight for what’s right and we can’t get bullied.”
That, says it all. In a game setting, if Nene throws a shoulder into Kendrick Perkins, Perkins is not only going to shove him back, but Durant and the rest of the team is going to back up their teammate. It’s just their nature. That’s what’s happening here. David Stern just gave Derek Fisher an elbow. And here come his teammates.
Billy Hunter said on a podcast that this has become a “moral” issue for the players. At the time, it just seemed like talk to try and scare the league. But clearly it’s not. This is an emotional thing. And players are extremely emotional. They live off it. It’s what drives them. They’re competitive, emotional and passionate. Prideful.
So why would we expect anything less from them now, especially after they were backed into a corner by David Stern’s ultimatum? The players wanted to stand and fight instead of just taking their medicine from the rich guys running the league.
I think Jerry Stackhouse said it well while ripping Derek Fisher. “Players are emotional. Players get emotional,” he said. “So no, I don’t necessarily, particularly want Derek Fisher or any of the executive committee negotiating a contract for me.”
I mean, Hunter actually called the hard salary cap a “blood issue,” meaning, I guess, that the players would rather die than give in to that. That’s what the owners are negotiating against. It’s nothing really all that new to them as they’ve haggled over contracts and extensions with players for years, but now the players are collectively fighting. At least that’s the appearance.
I understand taking a stand for what you think is right. A tip of the cap to that. But this isn’t a fight against poverty or injustice to children or something. This is about business. A $4 billion one, in fact. One in which the employees are paid more than $5 million per year annually on average.
At some point, the players are going to have to approach it that way. I’m all for doing what you think is right. If the players were being greedy, they would’ve just accepted this deal, cashed their paychecks and forgot all about it. But instead, they’re sacrificing for future generations of players. They’re taking a hit not for themselves necessarily, but to one, set a new precedent that says the players won’t be bullied and two, give the future players of the NBA a decent system to play in.
But this is a business decision. And sometimes, looking it as a moral dilemma isn’t what’s wise. Because in the end, players typically end up getting screwed in these situations. It’s a bad idea to operate in this atmosphere running on emotion. You have to always keep your head and make sure every move makes sense not just in terms of saving face, but also actual dollars and cents. You can’t let pride interrupt what’s wise. That’s a challenge every busisnessperson has to face on a daily basis.
This court battle is exactly what David Stern called it: It’s a tactic. Nothing more. The players want a deal. The owners want a deal. Nobody wants to go to court and actually sue for damages. That’s not the plan here, though if both sides remain stubborn, it will be. What both sides want is to get back to playing basketball. It’s just all about playing cards right now and throwing out bets that hopefully force the other side to give a little. They very well may have pushed all-in there and could lose every chip they have, but they’re not going to fold. They’re going to go down in a blaze.
Why didn’t the players just take the deal and move on? It’s the best deal they’ll probably get and despite it not being fair one bit, it might not matter. The reason is because that’s not how they’re bred. That’s not what’s in them. They aren’t just going to give up. You back a professional athlete into a corner and tell him he has to lose and he’s going to fight back. It’s like Walter White in Breaking Bad. The players are trying to tell the league, “I am the one who knocks.” It’s all about grabbing the upper hand.
Don’t wonder why the players didn’t just take the NBA’s offer. Because the reason should be obvious. It’s just not what they do.