Commentary

The 11th hour of NBA talks has arrived

Updated: October 28, 2011, 11:29 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNLA.com

The Eleventh Hour has arrived.

Now that we've learned that there will probably be no basketball in November, that Christmas Day games are in grave jeopardy and that the NBA is on the verge of placing the future of this multibillion-dollar brand in peril, it's time to put egos aside and get a deal done.

[+] EnlargeDerek Fisher
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireFans are ready to see Derek Fisher and his fellow players out from behind podiums and back on the floor.

That means allowing your emotions to be superseded by the specter of missing out on $2.1 billion in revenue, if you're the players. It means submerging one's take-it-or-leave-it mentality and throwing the players a proverbial bone, if you're the owners.

"We've indicated we're ready to sit down and negotiate with [the owners] on a minute's notice," Billy Hunter, the executive director of the players' association, told Bill Simmons' B.S. Report on Monday. "We've indicated that we're prepared to negotiate and continue negotiations but for the fact that the owners told us [their latest offer] was take it or leave it and only unless we agree to the 50-50 split. But we can't agree to the 50-50 if we don't have a system in place."

The thing is, it won't matter if there is no season in place.

Far be it for me to play the role of negotiator on behalf of the players' association … but it's time. Not because Billy Hunter and union president Derek Fisher haven't done a good job, because they have.

But the players have hurt themselves, due to their inability to gauge the sensitivities of the viewing public.

It's too late now. The public is utterly disgusted.

And guess who they're blaming?

The players. I hear it from my radio callers and fans on the street all the time. They're blaming players who are getting into heated arguments with a 5-foot-7, 69-year-old commissioner. Players, supposedly ready to negotiate a business deal, dressed as if they just came off the playground. Players who are busy talking about "respect" and vowing not to "cave in," when everyone knows this is a league in which players averaged $5.15 million in salary and earned $2 billion collectively last season, in the midst of a ravaged economy and escalating unemployment that have clearly effected the rest of America significantly more than it has NBA players.

Faced with those facts and perceptions, the reality of a legitimate "win" is no longer an option. The players have already lost in that department. But it doesn't mean that they can't win symbolically, especially when you have commissioner David Stern acknowledging:

"These are the greatest players in the world. They've done a phenomenal job of lifting this game to the heights we enjoy now. And we'll need them to continue to do that for our league in years to come for the game to flourish," as he told me weeks ago.

So much for wondering how to negotiate from this point forward.

Stern just told the players.

The owners, indeed, may appear hell-bent on institutionalizing a 50-50 split on basketball related income, but here's how the players could conceivably get them to move off their hard-line stance:

With owners wanting to take the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax penalty on teams to the level of $1.75 and above for every $1 spent over the luxury tax trigger number -- all in an effort to prevent teams like the Lakers from spending $120 million, while Sacramento spent $45 million -- how about the players just giving in on that fight?

Stop arguing about it.

Yield … on the condition that the owners yield to a 52-48 split or a 51-49 split, and possibly getting a portion of the luxury tax penalties due to be paid back to the league by penalized owners.

If Stern and the owners refuse to budge, all Hunter and Fisher have to do is remind the owners, "You will need us to market this brand once these negotiations come to an end. Our player contracts will be guaranteed, remember? Do you really, really want to have us agitated and cantankerous over two points on BRI, amounting to $200 million or $300 million on a $4.3 BILLION deal?"

There would be a deal by the end of the weekend!

We'd have a deal because that's about business. Not emotion. Not ego.

We'd have a deal because there would still be a chance at an 82-game schedule.

There would be a deal because numbers and the economic realities of the players' impact would finally take center stage over the harsh realities the owners have put out for public consumption all these years. And we would all finally concern ourselves with the rhetoric of basketball being played.

Before the dust settles on an actual deal, it first must settle in the minds of both sides. The business of the game must take precedence over anyone's individual position, whether it be owners or players.

Players need to think about the business in the future, how to carve out things beneficial to them 5-10 years down the road. And they must do so while understanding the owners are perfectly within their rights to insist upon building a sustainable business model for the same time period and beyond, and that competitive balance and something resembling financially stability for all 30 teams are paramount now more than ever, due to the changing economic times.

The owners simply must concede that none of their aspirations are possible without the players' assistance. Today, tomorrow and beyond.

It's all doable, so long as both sides wake up, listen to the alarm clock and ponder the catastrophic effect a canceled season would have on the NBA brand.

Tick … tick … tick.

Follow Stephen A. Smith on Twitter: @stephenasmith.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."