Commentary

Players need to explain their position

Updated: October 17, 2011, 1:21 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNLA.com

Sometimes, even if your argument appears valid, and sensible, and right, it can still be devoid of common sense, strictly because of what it is up against. The moment the National Basketball Association canceled the first two weeks of the 2011-12 season on Monday night, officially putting pro basketball for the year on a respirator, all arguments by the players over how wrong the owners are became irrelevant.

Quite frankly, the jig is up!

Fisher
Michael Cohen/Getty ImagesMost fans don't want to hear about a reduction in basketball-related income from 57 percent to 53 percent. They just want to see their favorite players play.

The players can scream all they want about how they are being locked out and are not on strike. They can lament over how unfair it is that since they're the product fans come to see, they shouldn't have to give up anything. But when commissioner David Stern announced that the first two weeks were being canceled, ensuring that approximately $200 million would be lost, it should have reminded players of something they should have realized quite a long time ago: Whatever leverage they thought they had is on the verge of extinction.

Let the players try to hashtag their way through these negotiations, tweeting to their hearts' content. Let LeBron James apologize to the world, saying "There's no us without ya'll," and let Steve Nash keep asking, "Why are the owners unwilling to negotiate in good faith?" Such rhetoric rings hollow right now to a fan base aware that there will be no NBA games starting Nov. 1.

No Chicago Bulls vs. the defending champion Dallas Mavericks on opening night.

No Miami Heat visiting Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks on Nov. 2.

No sightings of Kobe Bryant, just 729 points shy of passing Shaquille O'Neal for fifth on the all-time scoring list.

Absolutely nothing!

Fans don't hear a reduction in basketball-related income from 57 percent to 53 percent as much as they hear that players made $2 billion in salaries. They're not interested in the suffering of those averaging $5 million a year in salary when a ravaged economy has many Americans worrying about whether they'll have a job next month.

Most fans have no patience for player complaints when the National Football League managed to resolve its issues without missing games, and when NFL and major league baseball games are taking place.

"We tried awfully hard to move towards the players and ultimately come up with a system that works for everyone," Stern said last night, following the latest failed meeting with the players' association. "We made, in our view, concession after concession.

"I'm not sure if the players would agree with everything we've done. But we think we've tried very hard to move towards the players and ultimately come up with a system that ... over the seven years of the deal we offered before, the players have the right to opt out of a 10-year deal ... a raise [in average-player salary] from $5.5 million to probably over $7 million. In this economy, at this time with what's going on in this country and in the world … I'm proud of my owners. They really demonstrated to me, to the fans ... that they really tried to make a deal."

So now that Stern has won that public relations battle, as he usually does, getting his message out first, it's up to the players to provide more pointed arguments. The kind devoid of emotion, and not limited to 140-character tweets.

It's up to the players to fully explain why a deal could not be made.

Somehow, it is the players who'll need to explain why, after entering the negotiations determined to fight off the owners' insistence on omitting guaranteed contracts and implementing a hard salary cap and being successful on both fronts, games are still being canceled.

It is the players who'll need to justify why the potential for $1.5 million in average-salary pay hikes -- with a guarantee of no pay cuts -- for at least the next seven years was not a deal good enough to accept.

The players will also need to explain why it's a problem for owners to want Memphis, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Charlotte and other small-market cities to have a fairer shot at competing economically with New York and Los Angeles if it wouldn't affect the bottom-line dollars the players are actually receiving.

Without question, the players have a bevy of legitimate gripes. Especially pertaining to the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax that owners now want to turn into a $2 to $4 tax for every dollar they overspend, essentially dissuading owners from spending.

But there was plenty of time to resolve these issues, as the players have proved from the moment they managed to find all this time to span the country playing charity basketball games; far more time than most of them spent at the negotiating table over the last three months.

"We'll deal with this with our chin up," said Lakers co-captain and union president Derek Fisher, a five-time NBA champion. "This is a big blow, especially to our fans. We hear them loud and clear, and we're going to do our best to bring back basketball as soon as we possibly can."

Sadly, Fisher sounds as if the fans are the primary ones he needs to be concerned about, as opposed to the players themselves.

The cancellation of games means the loss of income to players. It also means that whatever stance is being taken by the owners will only harden now that games are missed and money has been lost.

The players, emboldened by a desire for "respect" and not "caving in" to the owners -- as many of them have said -- will now be forced to prove that their financial portfolios can stomach hits to the degree that owners' portfolios can.

On that note, there's only one thing left to say: Good Luck With That!

Follow Stephen A. Smith on Twitter: @stephenasmith.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

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