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Dont you felt sorry for the players?

They only wanted to play. They didnt want labor disputes. They didnt want lockouts. They just wanted to play.

The next thing they know, they were getting bullied by David Stern. They werent being offered the money they wanted from the owners. In fact, the owners were being just plain mean to them by demanding they take their latest offer or the next offer would reflect the losses incurred during the lockout. The lockout the owners imposed on the players.

The players were absolutely right in discrediting their own union by asking them to remove themselves from the negotiation process, destroying their fan base and likely costing many hundreds of NBA employees and employees of businesses related to the NBA to lose their jobs. They had no choice but to take this action. The just wanted to play ball after all.

I think I just bit off a bit of my tongue from all that sarcasm.

The players didnt have to walk away from the negotiation table. They didnt have to practically emasculate their own union. The owners werent being that tough or abusive after all.

Yes, the players’ next contract wasnt going to be as rich as their previous ones but you know what? Everyone is tightening their belts these days. The players cant seriously expect the owners to accept yearly operating losses without looking at the biggest expense on their balance sheet and saying whoa! Perhaps that expense that takes 57% of all revenue needs to be curtailed a bit so the overall business can make a profit.

So, why was this action needed at this point in the negotiations?

Because the union leadership, despite stating over and over that they knew the owners were going to play hardball in these negotiations and knew that the negotiations were going to be brutal, didnt make any plans for handling this situation properly so the season could be saved. They went into the lockout discussions with the same old game plan, but the owners had a different playbook. Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter were totally outclassed from the start.

The NFL players union knew that the NFL owners were going to want concessions from the players and this in a league where every team is profitable. The NFL players decertified their union before the NFL lockout even began and immediately went to the courts. They salvaged their season by being proactive. They lost the battle in the courts, but they salvaged their season by being pre-emptive in their approach to the change in management;s attack.

By the way, seeing the NFL players lose in court on the very same grounds that they now are addressing the courts for relief is an interesting strategy at best. Of course, the NBA hasnt actually filed any motions since their newly appointed lawyers have only been on the job for a day or two. Talk about not looking ahead. These guys dont even have a plan on how to attack yet 135 days into the lockout.

Billy Hunter and the union leadership may have sacrificed this NBA season, and possibly more down the road, to maintain their positions of power over the players. Why do I say that? Well, consider that instead of decertifying the union, the players were convinced to allow the union to step away from the negotiations while remaining as an organization. That secures Billy Hunters $2.5 million a year salary without him having to do his single most important job. Once a deal is struck, and I agree with Henry Abbott that a deal will be negotiated not ruled on by the courts, then the union leadership can retake control of the players. Hunter doesnt even get a cut in pay for doing this.

The union leadership must have been more concerned with losing that power to the agents or the courts or whoever than they were about the season. They wanted to be the big boys in the negotiations who stared down the owners and won for the players. Well, it didnt turn out that way. The NBAPU stared and the owners stared right back. They stared some more and the owners stared right back. They cried to the press and then Stern just laughed at them.

You see, the owners have all the numbers on their side. They can show tax returns claiming massive losses. They have the deep pockets to wait out any delays. They also have negotiated in good faith. The players can say that their offers werent good enough all they want, but there have been alterations to the original offers and that alone means they are negotiating. They have made concessions from their original plan and pretty dramatic ones at that. That is negotiating in good faith. Just because the union isnt maintaining the status quo in the offers doesnt mean the owners arent bargaining in good faith.

What makes matters worse is the owners also were proactive and filed a court case before the union, declaring the union wasnt negotiating in good faith. The owners anticipated Hunters lust for control of the union, his incompetence to achieve what he promised the players he would, and then they also beat him to his one last hope for escape. Now, for the players to win in court, they must travel to the court location of the leagues choosing with the knowledge that the NFL players just lost on almost identical claims and with the unions members (that would be the players, by the way) facing irreplaceable loss of income.

Yes, the leagues owners have been one step ahead of Billy Hunter and the union since negotiations began over two years ago. No one is happy to see the league lose the season, including the owners who may lose less by not playing than they would playing under the old CBA, but the owners may just end up with exactly the type of contract they desired in the beginning. The courts may strike down every motion the players throw toward the bench. They did it to the NFLPA after all.

That is why it is hard to not look at David Stern and see a twinkle in his eye when he discusses the unions labor move. The owners saw it coming from the beginning and, despite making attempts to placate the union, in the end they knew this would be how it ended, and they are happy to finally be getting closure.

The one good thing for the players to come out of this affair is the likely removal eventually of Billy Hunter as the union head. David Stern may be called the commissioner, but he is also a lawyer. He understands contracts, and he understands the law far better than Hunter. The players have attorneys who negotiate their individual contracts, not retired ball players. Maybe it is time the players union was led by people who understand labor law and dont need it explained to them during negotiations. Maybe the players deserve a proactive union rather than one who complains they knew the owners were going to do this but werent prepared to stop them.

And maybe they will get their act together and file the case in court today so we the fans may not have to sacrifice the entire season and spend all winter watching the players get beat up in court the way they appear to have been so far during negotiations.

I wouldnt bet on it though.

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