DB.com Mavs Essay: Rhythms And Patterns
Is there a way to predict what happens next?
Any smart lawyer or negotiator (and DB.com has access to the best) will tell you that there is a pattern and a rhythm to these sort of proceedings. First, the screaming and the bellowing and the chest-thrusting must stop. There is a time and a place when dick-measuring contests are expected.
Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade and Paul Pierce did some of that. David Stern, Dan Gilbert and Paul Allen did some of that.
That's over now. Mediators, judges and courts are interested in the law, not in your volume or your "inseam.''
What the players have done by moving beyond negotiation and into antitrust litigation is NOT an assumption of power on their part, though many seem to think so. In fact, they've given up power, transferring it from one set of expensive lawyers to another tier of expensive lawyers. We hear hints of racial conflict here, that there players who are miffed at being ordered around by old white men from the other side of the table. What they cannot yet see: They are about to be ordered around by old white men on their own side of the table, old white men who are antitrust experts racking up billable hours that will be paid by the players they "represent.''
Let me put it this way: Long after Paul Pierce is forgotten as a powerful face of this conflict, Jeffrey Kessler will be remembered.
Sacrifice of power? The owners' side has done some of the same, of course. But I can assure you that the 30 owners are well-versed in the chess moves … and that not all of the 450 "trade association'' members are.
The owners cannot be pleased about the antitrust movement because it introduces a chance for them to lose the battle – something that was never, ever going to happen in head-to-head negotiations. Still, know that the court system will insist that the two sides go back to battle … so ultimately, the owners will still likely prevail.
While they wait for that to happen, they will watch their players squirm as million-dollar paychecks go un-mailed. … they will not present a counteroffer … they will be opportunistic as the union members do what some always do: shift into various levels of discontent.
Oh, there are factions within ownership, too. There are crazies, too, ownership hawks who are out for blood. (By the way, you know what hawks almost always get when they are out for blood? Hawks get blood.) But anyway, the dissenters up there in the owners' suites are motivated by things not as impactful as missed biweekly paychecks.
Fish, you sound "anti-union.'' Are you? Who's side are you on?
My youngest son just got a job at Kroger's. (Let's Go Krogering!) He signed union papers. If they ever try to compensate him below the legal minimum wage, or force him to add to his duties as a bagger by digging in a coal mine, that union support will come in handy.
But Ian Mahinmi's biweekly paycheck is $78,000. Dirk Nowitzki's is 10 times that.
This is no Kroger's and this is no coal mine.
And heck, according to the players themselves, thanks to a move that is at least as strategic as it is sincere, this isn't even a union anymore.
I can be pro-union but I cannot be pro-union ahead of being pro-Mike Fisher. The side I'm on is the side that most quickly and efficiently wins its argument so pro basketball returns to my life. The labor dispute is costing me money and robbing me of one of my great pleasures. The NBA and the Dallas Mavericks are one of my occupations and one of my avocations.
Which side am I on?
I'm on my side. And whoever fixes this fuckery – Stern or Cuban or Hunter or a judge or the President of the United States -- is going to be the hero of my side.
Is a mini-season salvageable?
I believe, going back to the concept of a negotiating "pattern and rhythm,'' that there are those involved who see the wisdom of starting the NBA season on Christmas Week. Christmas Day is a traditional benchmark for the league; it's when games move from ESPN to ABC, reaching a wider and more mainstream audience. Christmas Day would also work symbolically, as if there is ever a time when animosity and hatred might melt, it is December 25.
But no. The ticking clock lessens the likelihood. Furthermore, and back to the original point: It's not just Hunter and Stern calling each other anymore to hammer out "three tweaks.''
Games are canceled through Dec. 15. It would take 30 days to get a short-season NBA on track. So the hammer-out call has to come in the next week. The mood for that to occur is not an inviting one. But more: the players (through their reps) have voted to not accept the deal that was on the table. The owners (through Stern) chose not to negotiate further.
The argument now belongs completely to the lawyers, and most specifically, the players' lawyers. And pray tell, what exactly would be their motivation in urging Billy Hunter to call David Stern? Or in urging Hunter to accept a call from Stern? The lawyers were hired to guide this case into the antitrust courts.
That's what the lawyers will be motivated to do.
I've no right to doubt specifically the motivation of Boies and Kessler and the rest to do anything but the most right thing. But their idea of "most right'' is different than yours and mine, and I think different that at least half of the union membership that still hasn't been permitted by its own leadership to vote on any of this.
There is a pattern and a rhythm to the way these matters play out. The pattern is long and the rhythm is slow.