CHICAGO -- Do NBA players understand all they are giving up by refusing to accept the deal David Stern urged them to take last week?
It's the question fans, owners and -- undoubtedly -- some players are wondering as we head into yet another month without basketball.
The players have repeatedly given back during the collective bargaining portion of these negotiations, but it wasn't enough for them to get the deal done because they felt like the owners did not give back nearly enough to come to an agreement. What I can't understand is why the union has had such a difficult time disseminating its message to its membership and the general public. It's not exactly a secret that the players have continued to give back throughout the collective bargaining process, but at least the league has tried to explain why it feels like a deal must be done this way. Whether you agree with Stern's premise or not, it's clear that he has been out front in terms of information he's given to the owners and the general public.
Meanwhile, I'm convinced a majority of the Bulls players I've spoken to over the past few months didn't have much of a grasp on what was going on at the collective bargaining table before talks broke down last week. That's not to say they didn't have an idea of the major themes which the union was dealing with, it's just that they didn't seem to take a pro-active stance on the "system issues" fans have heard so much about recently. Player after player has said they just want a "fair deal" which is understandable given the money that's at stake, but instead of taking the time to go to the big meetings in New York City over the summer and learn more about the specifics, most Bulls have stayed away from the talks, preferring to let the process shake itself out with help from reps across the league.
To that point, since Bulls player reps Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah were not going to be in attendance in New York City a couple weeks ago, little used backup point guard John Lucas III was summoned into service by a separate union representative. Lucas, who said he had been learning details of the lockout on television and the Internet, like most fans, took his seat at the table very seriously. He listened intently and made sure he took note of what was going on so he could deliver personal messages to each and every teammate. After the meeting though, he admitted he was having a hard time getting a hold of some of those teammates.
The Los Angeles Lakers offer another case study in just how hard it can be to get the same message across to members of a team. Lakers guard and player rep Shannon Brown recently told ESPNLA's Dave McMenamin that Lakers guard Steve Blake wanted to take the last deal the owners offered. Blake responded by saying that wasn't the case. As Stern likes to point out, there are 450 members in the players union, so it's not surprising that some have opposing views on how to handle the current situation, but how is it possible that player reps are struggling to communicate with some of their constituents? I have no doubt the players care about what's going on in the meetings, and now most likely the court systems, it's their professional livelihood after all. But do they understand what they are giving up by not playing?
The money they would have earned this month by playing is gone and it's not coming back.
To be fair, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf isn't going to be seeing the money he has lost either. And unlike most NBA owners Reinsdorf's opinion and/or presence has been conspicuously absent throughout this process. The difference is that Reinsdorf is part of a much smaller group of well-heeled owners who have had a much more unified message throughout this entire process. The general public knows where the owners stand. They know that owners have a lot more to fall back on in terms of finances as well. (Like many NBA owners, Reinsdorf owns other businesses, including the Chicago White Sox).
The same simply can't be said of the players' message. The only thing fans know is that the players don't want to give back anything else. They feel as if they have already given back enough. Understandable, but now that talks have broken down yet again and the union has started the process of decertification, wouldn't it be wise to explain to the general public what it is the players are willing to sit out an entire season for? Or better yet, why it took until almost December to start the process of decertification in the first place?
Obviously, the only question most NBA fans have at this point is when is basketball going to start again? Fans are sick of listening to players and owners fight over billions of dollars.
The question that most fans have for players is: How much better is the deal going to look after this is all over with?
At some point, the owners and players are going to sign another collective bargaining agreement. How much different will that one look than the offer the players rejected last week? If there are drastic differences, the players should explain what they're fighting for and help fans understand why they're about to go through a winter without watching basketball. In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt Bulls fans to hear from Boozer and Noah so that they know where the players on their favorite team stand on the issues that have caused such a gigantic hole in the sports calendar. Aside from a few sporadic appearances at meetings here and there, the Bulls (players and owner) have taken a hands-off approach, at least publicly, to the entire process.
It's about time that changed.
The players need to do a better job of relaying their message to the fans who have been starving to see them in action. The owners need to do a better job of talking to the players about that message and helping both parties bridge the gap to save some semblance of a season. The longer each side waits, the deeper the divide grows between themselves and the paying customers who are growing increasingly sick and tired of the way this is being handled.