NBA Lockout Threats Masquerading As Hope: David Stern Is A Master Of His Domain

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 30: Commissioner of the NBA, David Stern announces that a lockout will go ahead as NBA labor negotiations break down at Omni Hotel on June 30, 2011 in New York City. The NBA has locked out the players after they were unable to reach a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The current CBA is due to expire tonight at midnight. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

The NBA lockout war of words between the league and union continued apace on Thursday, with David Stern pulling the strings. Also, Artis Gilmore got over on Kareem at least once!

In the NBA lockout, David Stern is playing Risk!, and y'all are playing Uno. From Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

"I expect that we'll make a deal because the alternative is very destructive," [Stern] said. "It's destructive of $2 billion worth of player salaries and it's destructive most important to our fans of the game. And if it spirals badly everyone gets hurt. But in some ways I worry because the players have more to lose, especially those in the later stages of their career. So we're going to do everything we can when the rhetoric slows down to get this thing back on track."

This reads like positive thinking until you consider the source and then some of the fuzzier language. This is a commissioner who had a federal lawsuit ready to be served, and who delivered it the morning after the league's first bargaining session of the lockout went nowhere. That lawsuit was a pair of jumper cables hooked right on the union's short hairs, and these quotes -- even if uncoordinated in advance -- are a quick engine rev. This stuff is second nature to David Stern, and it took him a few days to turn the lockout on its head and wrestle control from the union.

This didn't happen in the NFL; Roger Goodell didn't have the savvy or stinger to break down NFLPA boss DeMaurice Smith. Some would argue Smith was the Stern of that escapade, though it seems fairly clear that neither name on the marquee added up to the power of the NBA commissioner. Neither does Billy Hunter, unfortunately; this isn't a knock on the NBPA director, who is brilliant in innumerable ways. Betting on the National Labor Relations Board, as Hunter has done, is a strong gambit, and he could come up aces. But in the public battle? He either doesn't have the conviction of purpose (break the other side in half and then in half again) or assassin's savvy to pull it off.

Neither does Derek Fisher, who has otherwise been a Godsend for the union; he's easily the best union president in any sport that I've followed. But he's more like De Smith than Stern, and even De Smith would struggle winning the public war against this commish. Thursday's exchange of fire is further proof that the NBA is taking over the lockout debate for good.

The Stern quotes above were wrapped around the news -- broken by Stern himself -- that the NBPA canceled a Wednesday meeting for some reason or another. That immediate drew the ire of fans on Twitter. The NBPA quickly jumped into the cycle, and Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski has that response:

Union sources said the players didn't have a meeting scheduled with Stern and his negotiating team.

"The NBA refused to have a staff meeting [Thursday]," a union official said. "Billy Hunter has been with the [National Labor Relations Board] the entire week, including Thursday, and the NBPA was told that Stern would be completely unavailable to meet for the next two weeks."

The new narrative becomes that both sides are acting like teenage brats. And that hurts the union, because the old narrative -- back in June and July -- was that the NBA's requests were outrageous and that the owners were willing to cancel a season to line their pockets with more money. There was no mutual greed involved: the players had already consented to some salary givebacks, and had the high road. Having to be the dudes who called the lockout was an anchor on the owners.

By alleging that the union won't play ball now, as NBA fans grow more agitated about delayed free agency and an inevitable bump of the training camp/preseason schedule? Even if it stretches the truth, it's planted the seed that the union is just as culpable as the NBA for the slow progress. It yanks the players down to the owners' level. Stern wins.

This is why following the day-to-day machinations is so unbelievably annoying: it's so easy to see through. The union's getting played like a harpsichord right now, and we're locked into a mud fight that seemingly only a legal win can break. We'll see if Hunter gets his victory at the NLRB. Until then, throw on a poncho, because the fight's getting dirty.



Artis Gilmore's day at the Hall has been long overdue. In his day, he was overshadowed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But he got Kareem at least once!

A T-Rex with velociraptor moves. Congratulations, Artis.


The Hook is a daily NBA column written by Tom Ziller that runs on Monday through Friday. See the archives.

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