Based on the fact that the two sides are actually meeting and not accusing each other of being jerks, you'd be forgiven if you believed that the NBA lockout was actually solvable. A couple of reporters this week insisted that all was not lost, despite relative inaction between David Stern, Billy Hunter and the top officials of the league and players' union. To bolster that sentiment, Stern and Hunter agreed to meet Wednesday, Thursday and maybe even Friday to try to hammer out some progress.
We're basketball fans. We know all about irrational hope. We throw our lots with 19-year-old AAU veterans and anonymous Baltic 7-footers. We're used to blindly believing that "NANANANA CAN'T HEAR YOU EVERYTHING WILL BE OK!"
But it's worth noting that things really did look positive this week. Chris Sheridan deflated the suggestion that the sides are $7 billion apart. Ken Berger maintained his optimism. And it seems like almost all other relevant reporters came around. Almost.
Now, to kill all of that positivity, let's embrace the double negative: never think a sports agent won't ruin a good thing. From (who else?) Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reports on a recent union meeting in Los Angeles:
This was when NBPA tempers flared, witnesses said, and union vice president Maurice Evans let loose on the agent [Bill Duffy] - and indirectly - the dozens more in the room. Tension had been building between agents and union officials, and Evans offered a window into the union's frustration with the challenges and second-guessing from agents.
"Evans went on and on about how the agents always want to tell [the union] what to do but don't have any suggestions on how to make things better. Then Duffy would start to explain in a calm manner what he meant, and Evans kept interrupting him, cursing..."
Alright! The agents still think they are the smartest guys in the room, and the union officials are feeling threatened. Sounds productive! Sounds like a great way to keep the players together has we head into the most harrowing period (to date) of negotiations!
SI.com's Sam Amick has more. Essentially, just as there are gradations of lockout fervor among NBA owners, there are gradations of lockout fervor on the player side. The agents would seem to represent the most zealous in wanting to, uh, crush the league. Obviously, this is a bad thing for fans ... as bad as the most zealous owners, who want to crush the union and are willing to kill a whole season to do it.
Agents are certainly relying on the NFLPA's rousing collective bargaining success as a blueprint for victory; if DeMaurice Smith used decertification to put the owners on their heels, then by golly the NBPA should have used decertification to put the owners on their heels. Hunter didn't like that route as an opening verse, and went to the National Labor Relations Board ... which still hasn't ruled on the NBPA's complaint. So just as things are starting to look up, what do the agents do? Leak stories showing how defensive and wackadoo Maurice Evans and the union officials have been when confronted by agents.
It's like the agents are saying, "How dare you solve this lockout without our help!" Spare me.
The fact that Billy Hunter has calmed down the public rhetoric as compared to 1998 is good. That calm, measured Derek Fisher is in the hot seat instead of tempestuous Patrick Ewing (the NBPA president in 1998) is good. We want basketball, right? The owners want those cash registers at the arena to start chirping. The players want to see those paychecks in the mail. The agents want free agency to start. David Stern wants to give his old friend Mark Cuban a championship ring. Billy Hunter wants to breathe a sigh of relief. Adam Silver wants to work on his pronunciation of "Furkan Aldemir." David Kahn wants to be allowed to punch Michael Beasley in the face.
Maybe the agents are right. Maybe Stern and Hunter aren't making any progress. We made sure there's no Scrabble board in the conference room they are using, right? I'd hate to think we're deriving hope from a session that was really just the commissioner trading in tiles in an attempt to pop "quixotic" on a triple world score square. Maybe, in the end, things do have to get worse before they get better. Maybe it's all a mirage.
But we're basketball fans. We thrive on hope, on blind faith. We got a little bit of that sweet nectar this week, and it's almost impossible to not damn the agents to Neptune for drying it up. If the agents do more to cause trouble for Hunter, Fisher and the gang -- if they foment mutiny among their very own clients, who make up the voting base of the union, for instance -- any hope of starting the season on time will be lost. That's not something that will be taken lightly by fans.
The NBA season may depend on sports agents considering the future of the game over their own self interests. Now there's a terrifying thought.
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