Can Players And Owners Be 'Partners'?

Are the players and owners ‘partners'? Can they be? Should they be? While those two sides argue, the DB.com staff does the same. It's a DB.com tradition, a Mavs Barroom Brawl!



CHUCK: I realize that the two sides cannot be "partners'' in the most traditional business sense. But obviously each is vital to the others' success. Further I think this fiasco would already be over if the owners would have realized some version of that back in July.

I'd argue that we are witnessing this fiasco primarily because of two reasons: 1) an appalling dearth of leadership on both sides of the table and 2) both sides have forgotten how much they need the other. It's the second point I'd like to speak to here.

Smile

FISH: OK, bust off a beer bottle and let's brawl!

The concept of a "partnership'' is a lovely fantasy. The owners could "allow'' that to be the case, but aren't obligated to do so. And most of us, as business owners, wouldn't do it, either. Somewhere in this discussion we might want to make sure to address what separates this two sides, notwithstanding the negotiation table talks: The owners DON'T need the players. Oh, they need them for basketball. But they don't need them to survive financially. Last time I counted, Mark Cuban oversees 49 businesses and a personal worth of $2 billion.

He needs Jason Terry if he wants one of his 49 businesses to survive. (I'm being generous in the argument here because the Mavs don't really need Jet. Heck, they don't need anybody of this generation of players. They can, if they wish, afford to watch as the antitrust suits start to play out and then answer the phones when replacement players – "scabs'' – starting phoning for meetings.)

CHUCK: Well, this is a basketball argument, not a Mark Cuban Widget Factory argument. Can't we assume for the sake of this DB.com Barroom Brawl that Cuban wants to be in the business of Dallas Mavericks basketball? The owners seem to have forgotten just how much they need the players (especially the superstars). Their "negotiation" style to this point exemplifies that.

Certainly, they capitalized on their considerable leverage, and that's good business. However, they seem not just be content with coming out of these negotiations with a big ‘win.' As DB.com mentioned at the outset of this process, the owners will not be content with anything less than complete and total annihilation of the players union. And they've gotten it.

However, when you engage highly-competitive persons in such a manner, and don't even allow them to save face, you create the environment that "incentivizes'' disclaiming interest in November. That's a good tactic in July, August or maybe even September, not now. The owners forced the players into a corner and now the players have fired the only bullet they had in their gun.

FISH: There are obviously "hawks'' here who are "going for blood.'' But Chuck – and listen, I'm no Republican Conservative Big-Business Advocate, never have been – you know what happens when hawks go for blood?

They get blood.

Smile

If the owners were interested in compromise, they should've approached the players – a bunch of uber-competitors not used to losing, not used to being bullied – and at least pretended to respect them. I agree with you there.

But too many of them weren't interested in compromise. That's a fact, and our argument won't change that. We're all caught up in the "resolve of the players.'' We might want to take note of the "resolve of the owners,'' too.

And an important point: There are "hawks'' on both sides. The players side is now being run by an antitrust lawyer and guess what he wants? He wants an antitrust case. The most vocal players stand alongside that guy as he says, "Don't let the owners push you around anymore!'' Next thing you know, it's their own antitrust lawyer pushing them around.

CHUCK: Well, all of that "resolve,'' that's killing what is a business that needs both "parties,'' if you don't like the word "partners.'' Fish, you've argued that the player and owners are not partners in the traditional business sense. I'll agree to that. They aren't equals, nor should they be considered such. There is a vast differential in terms of economic power, business risk and earning potential between owners and players.

FISH: It's very, very critical, Chuck, that people interested in understanding this conflict understand the dynamics you just touched on. There are few employment worlds where the workers are upset at being offered salaries based on 50 percent of the company's revenue paired with guarantees of those contracts being worth millions of dollars.

I'm amused at how the players so frequently battle that argument by saying, "Yeah, but we're not a normal business,'' or "Yeah, but we are the product.''

First, if the NBA is "not a normal business'' (and they are right, it is not), maybe they should quit comparing themselves to "99 Percenters'' and "plantation workers.'' Second, when the players holler that they are "the product,'' they in a sense denigrate their own value. "Products'' are widgets and shoes and Chia Pets. Widgets and shoes and Chia Pets don't have voices. Don't take votes. Don't receive 50 percent of CPRI. (Chia Pet Related Income.)

So are you "the product''? The "99 Percent''? The "plantation workers''? The "partners''? Because it is impossible to accurately portray yourself as ALL of those things.

So we've got Chuck and Fish and the owners getting that dynamic. We don't get the players' leadership getting that.

CHUCK: The owners and players seem to realize that there was clearly going to be a winner and a loser to these negotiations. The players have made concession after concession and the owners have gotten nearly everything they've demanded. Yet here we stand in the midst of a potential nuclear winter, the fallout from the most bungled "collective bargaining" my young self can remember. Why?

In recent years, the players have made 57 percent of all basketball-related income while not investing a dime of their own in producing the basketball-related product. One could counter that the players risk their very livelihood every game in the form of a potential career-ending injury. Fine, but they have no stake in the product besides showing up and playing. In that sense, they were vastly overpaid, and their share of BRI has, appropriately, been adjusted downward.

They aren't true business partners. They are Basketball-Related Partners because they are vital to the business. They are not the business, the plantation workers, or the 99%. They seem to have forgotten that in the midst of forcing their way to destination teams while still getting the benefit of favorable contract extension provisions from their former franchise. The Lockout sideshow charity games has showed just how far the players can get without the owners.

FISH: I'm glad somebody besides me is saying that. Nobody wants to admit that because, after all, money goes to charity. But we're talking 2000 fans paying $15, which is $30,000. …

Wonderful … but of course 30 NBA players could skip showing up in Waco and just donate the $1,000 pocket change from their wallets and accomplish the same thing. I don't mean to belittle the charity. I'm just doing the math.

CHUCK: Speaking of math: Most of this could have been prevented had the owners just given the players something. Don't treat them as equals per se, but at realize that there exists some form of partnership between players and owners. The players have made every major concession in this process – that's evidence of good-faith bargaining in pursuit of a deal (not necessarily good negotiating but I digress). The owners have taken all of this and demanded more. That's not bargaining; that's pillaging.

FISH: In fact, while it's true that the players side made most of the concessions to get as close as they were (are?), the starting point that they came down from was having 57 percent of BRI. Doesn't that mean they got TOO MUCH before? Still, OK, being peeled down to 50 percent of BRI is a painful cut.

But it's still 50/50.

CHUCK: A little give-and-take from the owners side and you and I are reporting on how the Mavs handled the powerful Memphis front line in the game that was supposed to be played last night. Instead we are left wondering how and why we are watching this utter train wreck.

Some form of partnership between players and owners. That's all I'm suggesting.

FISH: You keeps trying to sneak that "partnership'' word in there, Chuck, even as we're pretty much agreeing that it's not a "partnership.'' You know it's not a "partnership'' when one side is asking the other for partnership!

Smile

I have a "partnership'' with FoxSports, for lack of a better word, and I have some authority there based on my talent and my contributions and my work ethic. But Chuck, I don't have as much "authority'' as FoxSports has. So ... yeah, we're a partnership. But they are the daddy of the partnership and I am the son.

CHUCK: Ah, but do they lord it over you?

FISH: Not yet. But if I ever sue them over my contract, they might!

Chuck, as you study to become a doctor, I assume your relationship with your parents is similar to mine with my son's. My son Nate attends Texas Tech. Now, the way we state it to each other and to the world, he and I pay for his tuition, room and board "together,'' as a "team.'' It's a system I designed to introduce him to and teach him the idea of budgeting and finance and responsibility, and it's worked. I'm very proud of him.

But our "financial partnership'' is, in truth, largely about ME funding HIM.

If it was a true partnership, a 50/50 deal, wouldn't half the time see HIM paying or funding ME?

Ask any smart businessman. Ask any smart person in a relationship, even in a marriage: One person has to be the CEO. Maybe, in a marriage, the CEO changes depending on the issue; He picks what restaurant they go to but she picks what church they attend, whatever. But ONE of the partners must truly be in charge.

CHUCK: Well, you're the one who is married! But the wife and the husband need each other. And the players and the owners do, too. It doesn't have to be, as DB.com's Michael Dugat recently termed it, a "john-and-prostitute'' dynamic.

FISH: You know that MDug; he can be a bit coarse. Let's bring it back to reality, and to Big D. In Dallas, as an example, who should be in charge of the Mavericks: Mark Cuban or Jason Terry? Donnie Nelson or Tyson Chandler? We've heard so much hyperbole from the players side about them starting their own league and about them being more qualified to run teams than the owners and GMs.
Smile
CHUCK: Granted, there is plenty of arrogance to go around …

FISH: But get real. Forget labels about "partnership.'' Who has experience as a supervisor? As a negotiator? As a decision-maker? As an executive? It would be silly and arrogant of Jet to consider himself Mark Cuban's equal in these matters.

Mark Cuban isn't Jason Terry's partner. He's his boss.

I started DallasBasketball.com 11 years ago. I certainly had help, from people with Mavericks connections, from long-time Fish followers who pitched in with technical stuff, and from media members who contributed as writers and/or spread the word about my project. And most of all, from readers.

But make no mistake: It was MY project. It is MY company.

CHUCK: Ah, but Fish, what you just said – listing 11 years of people who have helped you build the site – is more than what Stern and the owners have done this fall. In what you just said, you are contradicting yourself. Because in your words and your actions, you DO look at the readers and the sponsors and David Lord, Mark Followill, Chuck Cooperstein, Michael Dugat and Kevin Brolan and everybody who helps DB.com as partners! Admit it! And it is the right approach.

Wouldn't it be better if somebody took something that could be defined as "the right approach.''

FISH: You almost got me, but extending your example: Along comes young Kevin Brolan. He's my boy, a valued part of DB.com for the last year. He is the Roddy B to my Mark Cuban. We're going to put up billboards that proclaim K-Bro to be "The Future''!

Smile

But what if K-Bro comes to me tomorrow and says, "I'd like to negotiate a new contract with DB.com. Fish, I believe that because I am "the product,'' and I'm pissed because instead you treat me like a plantation worker. I should be paid 50 percent of all DB.com advertising revenue. Basically, Fish, I think we should be partners.''

You know what I would tell "Partner Brolan''? I'd tell him, "Enjoy your winter in Israel writing for IstanbulBasketball.com.''





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