May 17 - The Next Labor War
Is it one down, one to go?
With one of the two major winter sports already down and, as far as most casual fans are concerned,
out for the count, news broke today of the other winter sport potentially having similar labor woes rearing
their ugly faces. What differentiates the NBA from the currently out of work NHL comes down to one
word, however - leadership.
In a nutshell, while I am not saying there won't be a work stoppage in the NBA, I am saying that there is
no way on David's Brown Court that the work stoppage will reach the magnitude of their frozen brethren.
David Stern is way too smart to ever let that happen.
The NBA under the Commish has always been, and always will remain, on the cutting edge of
everything, be it technology, marketing or business practices. While it is viewed (correctly) as a
business first and foremost, the NBA honchos recognize the need for a fair and practical business
solution between the league and the players. It is that simple. And while the NHL is trying to force the
players to take what it is offered or else, with the NHLPA opting for or else, the NBA is sitting back,
watching the battle, and reminding itself of where they have always gone right and where the NHL is
It is difficult to remember, or fathom, that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is a David Disciple.
However, Bettman never developed Stern's greatest strength - an impeccable business acumen. Stern
is more media savvy, sure, and tact and diplomacy are both amongst the weakest traits of both
Commissioners. However, I once read a quote, I believe it was by Bill Simmons of ESPN.com, that
David Stern finds a way to be condescending yet likeable at the same time. As a former NBA employee, I
know this to be one of the most accurate statements I have ever read about someone. Bettman shares
Stern's weaknesses, yet not his strengths. And that is where the league's leaderships differ - and is why
the NHL is in such a precarious position.
As for the actual NBA labor war, Stern is playing this one very intelligently. And he is going to end up
getting almost everything he wants. He can afford to play hardball right now, given the timing of these
negotiations. The cancellation of today's bargaining session was more a formality than a step
backwards. Stern knows EXACTLY where these negotiations stand and is going to hold out as long as
he feels he can before he starts the actual negotiations, and I'm sure he knows what he is going to end
up doing already.
The financial issues (the owners would like to reduce the maximum length of long-term contracts and
reduce the size of annual percentage salary increases in long-term contracts) are being hidden behind
the smokescreen that Stern, through the media, has created with the minimum NBA player age issue.
When push comes to shove, though, there is no way the NBA ownership will ever hold out over the age
issue. What they have done, though, is create the illusion of that being the focal point to all of the
negotiations. Now, when they give in there, all the real financial pieces become the union's
concessions. It is absolutely brilliant ploy under the direction of a man that knows how to get things
So, while I can see the NBA locking its players out (and that is probably a foregone conclusion this
off-season), and possibly even not starting the season on time, that might all be part of the plan. Maybe
it is a concession to those owners that are losing money, so that they can cut their losses for a little bit,
while at the same time, make the players (and the fans, unfortunately) remember just who will always
hold the hammer in these labor wars.
But if this is the way it all plays out, maybe the Commish should start teaching Gary Bettman about