No PR Winners In NBA Labor Dispute

Ostensibly, there are no draws in basketball. No matter how many overtimes need to be played, someone comes out a winner. But with the National Basketball Association putting a “take it or leave it” offer on the table last week that the NBA Players Association has rejected –- disbanding the union yesterday and, in the process, putting its players’ future in the hands of the federal court system (unless a settlement is reached) –- it certainly seems like this game of PIG will have two losing sides, whatever the eventual legal outcome may be.

The battle for the hearts and minds of four-figure courtside ticket buyers, Season Pass cable TV viewers and just plain folk who read the sports pages and incessantly call sports radio programs to fantasize trades of disappointing players is being fought in social media.

As, the website of the Plain Dealer, puts it: “Twitter has become a cyber-battleground for players and the league during a work stoppage now in its 138th day. Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade asked the league: "Why are all your 'system solutions' only impacting the PLAYERS?? What have the owners given up of significance??" The league replied: "The economics & system favored the players in prior CBA -- Teams lost over 300m last year."



Over the weekend, the NBA “solicited collective-bargaining questions on Twitter, released highlights of its latest proposal on its Web site and reiterated that if union decertification occurs, all contracts would become void,” Tom Reed reports.

As the New York Times’ Howard Beck writes, “the rumors and the rhetoric” are flowing from both sides, and it’s difficult for anyone -– apparently including the parties involved, to separate the truth from the twaddle.

“It’s of grave concern to the league that there is an enormous amount of misinformation concerning our proposal, both on Twitter and in the more traditional media,” NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver told Beck Saturday night. “We believe that if the players are fully informed as to what is and is not in our proposal, they will agree that its terms are beneficial to them and represent a fair compromise.”

On an ESPN SportsCenter broadcast yesterday, NBA commissioner David Stern went so far as to warn of a “nuclear winter” as a result of the players disbanding the union and bringing a lawsuit against the NBA. I think ESPN host and columnist Michael Wilbon fairly sums up the feelings of most fans when he writes under the headline “A pox on both the NBA's labor houses!”:

“I'm tired of the hearing the league's position, tired of hearing the players' position, increasingly resentful that both sides seem completely oblivious as to what's happening in the real world. What they've both done, in coming this far in negotiations and failing to reach a deal, is the equivalent of running 26 miles of a marathon and then sitting down on the pavement and refusing to complete the final two-tenths of a mile.”

Attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and David Boies, who were on opposite sides of the NFL labor dispute (Kessler on the players’ side; Boies on the owners’), represent the players in the class-action suit. The AP’s Brian Mahoney reports that “a day before players normally would have received their first paychecks, the NBPA’s website greeted visitors Monday with the following message: ‘Error 404: Basketball Not Found. Please be patient as we work on resolving this. We are sorry for the inconvenience.’”

As one fan puts it on Yahoo! Pulse, “This NBA lockout is going to be long and ugly and no one will win in the end. Even when the NBA comes back, their fan base will be decimated.” Of course, no one in the league cares about the fans right now, so their financial loss, even after the lockout ends, is no one's fault but the NBA's.” But judging by the comments to this and other stories, many of them bordering on racist, the players are catching equal ire.

The race issue was fueled by a comment Kessler made last week that Stern was treating players like “plantation workers.” Former NBA greats Bill Russell and Magic Johnson are among those who have defended Stern, with Russell sounding like the peacemaker the dispute desperately needs. “I think the whole deal is not about black and white. It's about money, OK? I don’t see any signs of being greedy. It's a typical negotiation and that's all it is. And there are a couple of reasons it's difficult, because there's hard-liners on both sides.”

Those hardliners might want to take a look at the results of apoll on this morning that asks, “Is the NBA season worth saving?” Of 17,969 votes cast, 88% says “no” –- and that includes a “yes” vote by me, who hasn’t watched a complete game since the Knicks won their last championship somewhere in the recesses of the last century.

When you lose your most ardent fans, you’ve truly lost it.

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