Commentary

NBA labor-negotiation questions

Updated: November 12, 2011, 12:01 PM ET
By Etan Thomas | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: Etan Thomas is an 11-year NBA veteran and, as the executive first vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, is an active member of the players' negotiating team.

Etan Thomas
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesEtan Thomas has been involved in the NBA labor negotiations, but he still has questions.

1. To his credit, David Stern can spin information with the best of them. That being said, I have not met one player who, after fully understanding the particulars of the NBA's proposal, concluded that this is an acceptable deal. So my question is, what will it take for the NBA CEOs to understand that they are not going to be able to manipulate the players through the media?

2. The NBA CEOs know that their proposed system functions as a hard cap, because no team will be willing to pay that strict a penalty for going over the luxury tax. Do they think the players can't see that?

3. Do the NBA CEOs think the union can't see that this "new revision" is worse than the proposal they gave us last week, even though the "clock has stopped" on their ultimatum?

4. Are the NBA CEOs convince the union can't figure out that the way in which they constructed and defined the mid-level exception, no team will ever use it?

5. Did the NBA CEOs believe with Michael Jordan to the negotiating table we were going to be intimidated or awed to the point that this awful deal would start to look more attractive to us?

6. David Stern obviously issued his "terrible deal now or even worse deal" later ultimatum because he wanted to scare the players into meeting his every demand. Did he really expect that his threat would cause the union to come running with apologies for being bad employees and beg him to let us go back to work?

7. When the union was given the two options of a horrible deal now or an even worse deal later, why are people really surprised that we chose neither?

8. During recent negotiations, reporters continuously tweeted and wrote articles citing "anonymous sources" saying that we were closer to a deal then we actually were, or that progress was being made. Why do reporters keep giving false hope to fans?

[+] EnlargeMichael Jordan
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesMichael Jordan hasn't played in the NBA for nearly a decade, and the players know he's not on their side in this negotiation.

9. During the 1998 lockout, David Robinson made the statement after one of their failed negotiation sessions, "They don't negotiate. They tell you how it will be, and they don't want to listen to the players." Isn't it interesting how history repeats itself?

10. When someone buys a fast-food franchise, they don't just get keys and a congratulations card. They receive instructions on how to successfully operate the business. Instead of the NBA CEOs attempting to create rules to save them from from themselves , wouldn't the NBA be better off with a training session by David Stern, teaching each NBA CEO how to successfully run his business and avoid the pitfalls of CEOs past?

11. Why wouldn't the NBA consider a rollback on the salaries of the presidents and general managers who mismanaged their teams and were the ones ultimately responsible for their financial problems?

12. Political sportswriter Dave Zirin asked me if I thought the concession workers, parking lot attendants, janitors, food vendors, secretaries, scouts, trainers, mascots, dance teams and every other employee affected by this lockout would turn their anger on both sides and follow the lead of other protestors around the country. What if they start "Occupy the NBA?"

13. If Occupy the NBA were to happen, would the occupiers see the NBA CEOs as the 1 percent who want to impose their corporate greed, power and will on their employees?

14. A few friends of mine told me that although they appreciated my support for the Occupy Wall Street movement, I would never be considered as part of the 99 percent (they made the distinction that I was more like the 5 percent). My question is, if an Occupy the NBA were to happen, would the players be lumped in with the 1 percent because of million-dollar salaries?

15. While the issues raised by the Wall Street occupiers differ from the issues of this lockout, aren't there obvious parallels in power imbalance?

16. Who is in the same position of power as the 1 percent ? Who wants a bailout for their own mismanagement decisions? Who is more closely aligned with the corporate interests from which the Wall Street occupiers are looking to reclaim the country?

17. More than 46 million people are living below the poverty line, unemployment is at 9 percent, and those who are employed are in constant fear of losing their jobs. Many people are unable to make mortgage payments or buy their kids clothes, much less think of college tuition. And rumors are spreading that unless a deal is reached this week, David Stern will cancel games through Christmas, even as some fans don't know how they will celebrate Christmas. With that economic reality, what if we simply lose the fans altogether?

18. Do the NBA CEOs understand that if the fan base shrinks that could decrease game attendance, lower TV ratings, lower overall interest and reduce the overall value of each franchise?

19. Could the outrage of the fans push the negotiations along more effectively than any labor committee, union, board of governors or mediator?

20. Why does race always have to be injected into this power struggle? Do people understand that the only color the 1 percent care about is green? They have a lot of it, they want a lot more of it, and they will step on anyone's (black, white, brown, etc.) neck to get it.

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Robyn Beck/Getty ImagesEtan Thomas has an idea where the players fall in the public debate. Do fans agree?

21. During the lockout of 1998, Michael Jordan famously said to Wizards CEO Abe Pollin "If you can't make a profit, you should sell your team." That was then and this is now. Why do people have difficulty understanding that he is no longer a player but currently joined at the hip with the rest of the CEOs of the NBA, who -- like Bank of America, Wall Street and the rest of the 1 percent -- not only want but expect a bailout for their own actions?

22. During the NFL's lockout, Troy Polamalu said, "I think what the players are fighting for is something bigger. A lot of people think it's millionaires versus billionaires and that's the huge argument. The fact is, it's people fighting against big business. The big business argument is, 'I got the money and I got the power, therefore, I can tell you what to do.' That's life everywhere. I think this is a time when the football players are standing up saying, 'No, no, no, the people have the power.'" Isn't it interesting how the common theme here is power and greed?

23. If your boss came to you and said, "Listen, I know we are coming off of record overall profits as far as overall revenue and the most lucrative year in history but we have made some individual decisions that we are not happy with and we need you to take massive pay cuts. We need you to agree to construct the rules so that we can no longer make those mistakes, and we want you to make it easier for us to get rid of you if we choose." What would your reaction be? Would you say "Some money is better than no money," or would you gather the rest of your fellow employees and stand up for yourselves?

Etan Thomas is an 11-year NBA veteran and a poet, author and motivational speaker. His website is etanthomas.com.

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