What do you know? NBA commissioner David Stern returned to NBA lockout talks on Wednesday, having battled past the flu. The two sides -- oriented in small groups -- managed to meet for 15 hours and come away smiling, claiming progress on salary cap system issues. It seemed almost too good to be true for fans. And until a deal is finally reached, you would be wise to consider any leaks from the room to be too good to be true.
Something Stern told the exhausted reporters on hand caught my eye, though. It's a clever bit of framing in an otherwise naked stream of optimism from the commissioner.
"It's sad that we've missed two weeks. We're trying to apply a tourniquet and go forward. That's always been our goal."
This is a nice little abscission of blame. It's not even close to blame-shifting -- Stern isn't pegging the missed two weeks and widespread heartache on the players at all -- but the commish certainly tried, maybe unwittingly in a state of half-sleep, to remove the mantle of fault from his own shoulders.
Yes, the league is trying to apply a tourniquet by pushing to get a deal done that can preserve a (hurried, probably sloppy) 82-game season. But the league and union did the damage in the first place. This is a self-inflicted wound by the owners and players, and it was avoidable.
There's no reason that a sports league with smart people at the top of each side has to take a negotiation to the brink, fly by the reasonable deadline and keep pressing. I mean, this is an entertainment company. There's nothing that the owners and players are negotiating that will actually affect anyone's ability to live a decent life. That's where the money at play really does make this different than other labor battles. No one here is fighting layoffs, pension cuts, benefits cuts or salary cuts below living wages. There's no reason for anyone on either side to fight to the death over the luxury tax or the difference between 47 percent of revenue vs. 50 percent.
Shame on the owners for setting the starting point so far away from reality, and shame on the players for being obstinate enough at key points to delay the process. If a deal is done by the end of the week (meaning Sunday), I guarantee it will be similar to deals any number of writers, bloggers, plugged-in fans and team employees could have imagined back in July. This was totally avoidable if the owners and players had for one second set aside their focus on their own leverage and spent July and August convincing their constituents that this would be where a deal was heading anyway. Instead, the sides wouldn't negotiate in July, met once in early August (in a session designed to produce a federal lawsuit from the NBA) and didn't get serious until late September. The league's now in a time crunch to get to the finish line; if it does, it will be cramming 82 games into an abbreviated calender after a limited preseason with shrunken training camps. It's going to be ugly.
Fans won't care, because it's basketball! Some may stay away for the time being, but anyone paying attention to the ebb and flow of the lockout at this point isn't going to protest the return of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on League Pass come December. In fact, Stern and Billy Hunter might even be hailed as heroes for squelching their pride and saving an 82-game season!
Well, let's not get carried away. Stern nor Hunter has made many fans this fall. And they have no one but themselves to blame.
The Hook runs Monday through Friday. See the archives.