I understand that the NBA lockout sprung from a labor stalemate, and that given the circumstances, the league had few other options than to press pause and try to work out a deal under some dense tension. I understand why the NBA lockout was necessary, and maybe unavoidable. I understand that this is a legal fight with money as the root and solution, and fans hardly come into play at all.
I don't understand why David Stern leaped to make the lockout personal and acidic this week.
The league and its media caddies will argue that it's long been personal, ever since the National Basketball Players Association filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, or since the union earned approval from the players to decertify during the 2010-11 season. But this is a different brand of personal, a flavor only Stern -- among all sports personalities, only Stern -- can pull off.
On Monday, Stern told the media that he felt the union was not negotiating in bad faith. On Tuesday, the NBA filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block decertification and an NLRB complaint alleging bad faith by the union. But Stern didn't stop there.
On SportsCenter, Stern went after Jeffrey Kessler, the longtime legal counsel for the NBPA and someone who, according to the NBA's lawsuit, has flirted with decertification and anti-trust suit in every previous labor impasse. Kessler led the NFLPA's legal strategy over the last few months. The NFLPA successfully used decertification and got a great deal, all things told. So take this passage from Stern on SportsCenter as you will.
NBA Commissioner David Stern, in a live interview on ESPN, also called out union lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, who helped the NFL players settle their lockout, as "distracting" the union with decertification talk "and keeping them from making a deal."
I mean ... how is anyone supposed to take this seriously? Keeping them from making a deal? The NBA has asked the union to give up hundreds of millions of dollars of salary. That's keeping the players from making a deal. Decertification is a path to putting pressure on the NBA to deal; whether it's legal or not is for the court to decide. In that sense, the federal lawsuit is justified.
But the federal lawsuit also includes a threat of questionable legal verisimilitude.
In the alternative, the NBA requests a declaration that, if the NBPA's disclaimer were not deemed invalid by the NLRB, and the collective bargaining relationship between the parties were not otherwise to continue, all existing contracts between NBA players and NBA teams ... would be void unenforceable.
In other words: if the NLRB doesn't agree with us, please declare that we can void all NBA player contracts.
This is a ridiculous threat, plain and simple. It's funny, because it's included as the surprise twist in a lawsuit that complains about the union's ridiculous threat. It's like fighting silly string with a blowtorch. Only it's a gag blowtorch that shoots confetti. Because the NBA will never set a real blowtorch to all existing contracts. Never.
And if they do, in the course of this fight? Then we will be writing books titled How David Stern Killed The NBA. That decision, should it ever be made, will set the league back decades. Stern will be longing for the days of Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson. Or Wes Unseld, Gus Williams and Maurice Lucas. Or George Mikan and Jack Twyman. Stone age, man.
Why? Because these players aren't going to mess around with that. Kobe Bryant loves money and loves fame, but he's also a pretty proud, easily angered fellow. Mark Heisler reminded us last week that he was one of only three NBA players to vote against the 1999 labor deal. (He was a 20-year-old rising star -- but not Kobe -- at the time.) Kobe Bryant has more than $75 million left on his L.A. Lakers contract. If that gets voided, Kobe will make someone pay. Maybe Jerry Buss, maybe David Stern. But someone will pay.
The same will go for any number of veterans who have made tons of loot already. (Think Kevin Garnett and the Celtics' core; think some of the Mavericks' more loquacious players.) Voiding player contracts -- the most sanctified part of the player experience, for better or worse -- would cause more problems for the NBA that it would solve. 1999 would look like Heaven compared to the outcome.
So it's an empty threat, or at least an absurd one. But one that Stern and the league cling to in that lawsuit, and one that Stern will parrot with a straight face on cable TV as he alleges that the players are too distracted to make a deal. Nah, man. Players aren't too distracted to make a deal under these conditions. They're too smart to. Don't get it twisted. You're the one distracted by the legal bulls--t. You're the one getting caught up in a pissing match with the opponent. You're the one taking this from labor impasse to labor war. Don't expect anyone to believe otherwise.
Spencer Hawes, who once boasted that he had a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker on his Lexus, has magically found his pro-union soul, as Trey and Eric have noted. I don't know Nick Collison's specific ideology, but he certainly doesn't fit the standard image of an NBA player -- at least not the one the haters want you to envision. And there he is, responding to one of Stern's most egregious quotes on Tuesday.
Here's Stern talking about the threat of NBA players going overseas:
"And in fact it threatens to do two things. It threatens to split the union because only the high-paying stars, only the superstars, will be able to get any significant number of dollars, and those dollars are so small compared to what they're leaving on the table in the U.S. that it just means they're going to be making a few more dollars than the non-superstars, and I think it's going to split the union."
Here's the very non-star Nick Collison on Twitter (cleaned up a bit):
If Kobe, Farmar and Dooling make money overseas it will not divide the union as Stern's tactic suggests. What unifies the NBPA is the owners' stance that a long, momentum-crushing lockout is the best way to break the union, and guarantee themselves profit win or lose.
Who are you gonna believe? Now re-read the name actually signing deals overseas: Deron Williams, yes, but Nicolas Batum and Darius Songaila and Sasha Vujacic. Hard to find a fracture along those lines.
THE SECRET LIVES OF TEAM NAMES
When the NBA sued its players on Tuesday, it's 30 teams were, of course, also listed as plaintiffs. Well, those 30 teams' holding companies were. And in many cases, those holding companies -- at least as listed by the NBA's lawyers -- have interesting names.
Here is a classification, taken right from Page 1 of the lawsuit.
NOTHING TO SEE HERE
Atlanta Hawks, LP
Bobcats Basketball, LLC
Golden State Warriors, LLC
Pacers Basketball, LLC
Miami Heat Limited Partnership
Milwaukee Bucks, Inc.
Minnesota Timberwolves Basketball Limited Partnership
Orlando Magic, Ltd.
Philadelphia 76ers, L.P.
Trail Blazers, Inc.
San Antonio Spurs, L.L.C.
NO MASCOTS ALLOWED
Chicago Professional Sports Limited Partnership
Dallas Basketball Limited
New Jersey Basketball, LLC (ha!)
DEPARTMENT OF REDUNDANCY DEPARTMENT
Sacramento Kings Limited Partnership, LP (No, seriously.)
OHIO STATE, Y'ALL
EXTRA LETTERS COST MONEY
LAC Basketball Club, Inc. (Sounds swanky, though.)
COOL NEW SPORT
Rocket Ball, Ltd.
Madison Square Garden, L.P.
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Ltd.
SWAG OUTTA CONTROL
Banner Seventeen LLC (This is the Celtics' official company name. This is real.)
Hoops, L.P. (Your Memphis Grizzlies!)
The Professional Basketball Club, LLC (They are mad creative in Oklahoma City.)
New Orleans Hornets NBA Limited Partnership
And finally, NEVER FORGET
Washington Bullets, L.P.
The Hook is a daily NBA column written by Tom Ziller that runs on SBNation.com Monday through Friday. See the archives.