Commentary

NBA, players union still 'towing' the line

David Stern should take tips from ticket-escaping security guard in NBA lockout talks

Originally Published: May 17, 2011
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- No progress was made in NBA labor talks, so let's cut right to the most interesting side story from what turned out to be a brief afternoon of bargaining.

Less than an hour into the meeting between a small group of owners and players, a Department of Transportation tow truck pulled up alongside a car that was parked where it shouldn't have been. The truck operator had his slim jim out to unlock the door and the car's alarm was shrieking, when out of the front door of the hotel where the meeting was taking place dashed a member of the NBA's security detail.

The car was his, and it was not yet on the tow truck's hook.

[+] EnlargeDerek Fisher
AP Photo/Mary AltafferUnion president Derek Fisher says the NBA and players are "still very far apart" in CBA discussions.

The security official approached the tow truck driver in the calmest manner possible and proceeded to smooth-talk the operator into backing off his threat to drag the car away. Not only that, he got the tow truck guy to take away the parking ticket that was sitting underneath one of his windshield wipers.

Now, you must understand how unlikely of an event this was. (Not to mention the amount of money at stake: $185 for the tow, plus $105 for the parking ticket.) The tow truck operators in New York are some of the toughest hombres on the public payroll, and getting them to acquiesce is next to impossible.

But Stern's security guy pulled it off, which should serve as a guiding light to the commissioner who emerged from this bargaining session looking as dour-faced and downcast as he has throughout this entire negotiating process.

A little bit of reasoning, combined with some diplomacy and some well-chosen words, prevented a small altercation from becoming a bigger debacle.

Peace was made, life went on, and no one was worse for the wear.

This point is an important one to make because there is still time, no matter how much pessimism is professed, for the NBA and its players union to come to agreement on a collective bargaining agreement before the window of opportunity slams shut and the 2011-12 season starts getting dragged away like a car riding the back end of a tow truck.

And as anyone who has ever been towed knows, once that car starts getting dragged off, it takes a monumental measure of effort, patience, exasperation and money to get things back to normal.

The NBA can still manage to avoid that "It's too late now" feeling by getting a deal done by the end of September, and from all indications Monday they'll likely need another 6-8 weeks to find a middle ground where they can meet financially, thereby saving the season in much the same manner as the NFL owners and players did by resolving their lockout last week.

That sport is now enjoying an "all is forgiven" moment from its fans, and it is not farfetched to assume that the NBA owners are trying to follow a similar path, figuring a three-month work stoppage that earns them hundreds of millions of dollars in further concessions will be worth the summertime strife it took to accomplish their goal.

"From where we sit, we're looking at a league [the NFL] that was the most profitable in sports, that became more profitable by virtue of concessions by their players," Stern said.

Concessions from the NBA players have already been made, and the union finds itself in the uncomfortable position of engaging in concessionary bargaining -- trying simply to hold on to as much as possible of what they are already receiving.

But Stern and the owners want monumental changes to a system that they claim is fundamentally flawed, and the players say they are unwilling to yield to the owners' demands and reduce their cut of revenues from the current 57 percent to less than 40 percent over the life of a 10-year deal.

That's simply asking for too much, the players say, which is why we were in the same place Monday as we were on June 30 -- the last time the heavy hitters from both sides sat together in the same room.

"It was similar to a lot of other meetings, a lot of discussion and ideas, but we're still having a hard time trying to break through and really get to what's becoming clearer and clearer, what the bottom line is," union president and Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "It all comes back to what is the split [of revenues]? And that is going to be the hard work ahead of us in the next several weeks. What is fair for players? But what also addresses the concerns and issues the owners are putting out?"

Aug. 1 is not the time for either side to give major ground on the money, nor will that time come later this month when the sides have pledged to reconvene again.

That time will come some time after Labor Day, when the threat of canceling games becomes real. It was such a threat that helped force the NFL into a settlement, and it is that threat that will make the sides in this dispute move into deal-making mode instead of their current posturing positions.

And like what happened outside the negotiation site Monday, when push never came to shove in that dispute between the NBA security guy and the tow truck operator, cooler heads will have an opportunity to prevail.

Until then, expect more of what we had Monday -- no movement, no progress, and no pressure to come to an agreement prematurely. The summer is still young, this lockout is still in its infancy, and all can still be resolved peacefully before it is too late.

If Stern and the owners don't believe that, they should talk to their security guy who avoided a trip to the tow pound by being the coolest guy on 52nd Street when the moment called for it.

He made it home in his own car Monday night without having to take an expensive detour, all because he knew the right thing to say at the right moment with an difficult adversary staring him in the face.

Just a little something to remember when the actual 11th hour finally arrives in mid-September.