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In NBA Lockout, Fans At Least Deserve Honesty

Fans are being deprived basketball during the NBA lockout. They at least deserve honesty from those taking the sport away.

I actually don't ask for much from the league or players' union when it comes to the NBA lockout. I have ideas about how it ought to be resolved in order to help maximize the popularity and sustainability of the league, and I advocate very forcefully for certain aspects. But in the end, the wills that make up the clans of NBA franchise owners and players will dictate a result more than logic will, and that's okay. Give me basketball, and we won't have problems.

But being dishonest with fans to win points in a PR battle that doesn't matter is an awful way to get there. And that's exactly what David Stern was in his now infamous Bill Simmons podcast appearance.

We've written about the appearance a few times; apparently, the show has captured the imagination of players, too. From's Sam Amick, who talked to union VP and free agent Maurice Evans:

Of course it does rub you the wrong way a little bit when the guy doesn't seem to have a sense of urgency. And then when you hear about his $20 million-plus salary, and he tries to justify it and go on and have an hour-long podcast that you could say is misleading or you could also say lying. Those things are the most disappointing. We had all these meetings, and the guy has yet to come in and truly bargain in good faith. They have yet to truly engage us and work toward getting a deal.

There are two strains of dishonesty that had emanated from NBA talking points -- more specifically, Stern's talking points -- that stand out as egregious. The first is that the NBA identifies its last proposal as one that cuts player salary by only 8 percent. It does cut player salary by 8 percent ... in the 2011-12. But then it essentially freezes it there for a number of years, before allowing a modest increase based on revenue growth. It's decouples player salary from revenue, which is a magnificent shift at the expense of players. So classifying it as an "8 percent pay cut" is a gross misrepresentation of the NBA plan.

Yet, the NBA is sticking to that talking point. From the New York Times' Howard Beck's lockout update:

"While we haven't heard Maurice Evans's remarks, I can confirm that we last proposed $2 billion in total player compensation for next season, an 8 percent reduction from last season," the N.B.A. spokesman Mike Bass said.

That's not a lie ... but it ain't the truth either. It has -- to borrow a phrase -- elements of truthiness. It's not the only point the NBA stretches too thin.

In that Simmons podcast, Stern also presents some measure of disbelief at the union's last proposal, which the commissioner says would increase the average player salary to $7 million in six years. (It's current $5 million.) The union has pointed out repeatedly that the figure cited by Stern -- and previous his deputy Adam Silver -- is based on the most absolutely rosy revenue projections. The union's last proposal cuts the share of revenue dedicated to player salary, but keeps the two items tied together. If revenue sees monstrous growth, so will player salary. The $7 million average salary is what would happen if owners are making money hand over fist. Stern leaves that part out.

Again, it's truthiness. I don't understand why Stern feels the need to mislead the fans. Again, there's no PR war to win. There are PR ramifications, but all Stern can do is hurt the future of his league by reinforcing the nasty stereotype that American pro athletes, and NBA players in particular, are greedy bums. What does Stern get out of lying to fans, other than perhaps some nods of approval from the Rick Reillys of the world? If you aren't going to let us have basketball, at least give us the truth. We can handle it.



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The Hook is an NBA column that runs Monday through Friday. See the archives.