It’s the perfect time to offer an olive branch.

It’s time to be a leader.

Why make a deal now? Both sides are taking a big hit. It’s a stalemate and NO one (besides the lawyers) is winning: owners, players, agents, workers, fans, restaurants, charities, etc.

The losses are building. The economy is fragile. Casual fans are moving on. Expectations for a season are low. It’s the perfect time for an “upside surprise” – to borrow a term from my industry.

Large amounts of money and plenty of egos at the table is never a good mix. It got out of control. Pride took over from common sense. Mr. Stern, you didn’t give them an out. You backed them into a corner – pro athletes who have fighting-through-adversity in their DNA. That’s what makes them special. That’s why they are in the NBA. They’ve never backed down from a good competition.

It’s time to lead. Give them an out. Give them more than half. Use 51% as the midpoint of a band. Take the high road. Make Billy and Derek look good (or perhaps less bad). Be the better man. Lead.

Yes, the owners will not be universally on board. However, they scored many wins on the “system”. Flexibility has increased. The accelerated tax system is a good step. Coming down from 57% to 51% will surely solve many ills. NBPA Economist Kevin Murphy argued “Our moving from 57 to 52.5 covers more than 100 percent of any cost increase they’ve had.” 51% is even better. The owners likely see a deterioration in the economy and wish to protect their investment, but they are also facing a time value of money problem. At this point on the calendar, the league can still have a decent schedule full of dramatic playoff races and sold out playoff series. Plenty of cash will still come in the door.

Could you forgo that cash flow to grind the players down to 47%? Absolutely. But how does a cancelled year and constantly grinding down your players impact two your key stakeholders (fans and employees/players)? Do you negatively impact BRI such that many relatively fixed expenses cannot be covered anymore – even on a more favourable split? The players are what ultimately brings the fans in who pay $10 for a beer and $100 for a jersey. Give them an olive branch and get them on side so you both win. The fans? A surprise deal will win most back. The media spotlight alone is worth millions in free advertising.

Will the players take it? Probably. Surveys suggest the player/owner blame is 50/50. It’s too hard for one side to win the public over. More importantly, the players surely knew the “ultimatum deal” was the best they were going to get. Make Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher look good. Say it was a mutual truce. Everyone came together. Maybe add another small concession. They felt they had to stand up to the previous offer. But that was emotion talking. Rationality is starting to win. But you have to give them an out. The players want to play and are now missing paychecks. The European debt crisis and limited spots makes signing overseas a tough option. With the NBPA withholding player’s licensing profits to pay for lockout legal fees, the pressure for a deal intensifies. Former NBPA executive director Charles Grantham said it best “My philosophy was to keep the guys working, because they lose income that’s not recoverable.”

The downside? Sure, some in the media (and players) would criticize you for not offering a slightly better deal earlier. As mentioned, some owners will not be pleased. However, the upside to a deal now is much bigger. With certainty and a better deal, upset owners can sell their franchises if they are not satisfied.

It takes approximately 30 days to start game one. Just in time for Christmas Day games.

Will David Stern do this? No. Through these negotiations he has not exhibited the inspired leadership and courage that would be required to pull this off. Now that they are in court, it takes even more courage as lawyers in both sides would strongly discourage any gesture which may appear to be conceding.

You can keep going down the current road and break them.

Or you could lead. And win.

It’s your legacy Mr. Stern. Your move.

Update: As of 3am this morning (Saturday, November 26), after 15 hours of negotiating, the NBA and the players have reached a tentative deal to end the lockout. And I believe the players are happy about it.

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  • Matt52

    Unfortunately Stern is a mouthpiece for the owners.  If the owners collectively or as a majority do not have the attributes mentioned to be the better men, then Stern does not have much hope. 

    • Agreed.  But its part of the leadership angle.  A decent deal NOW is likely better than grinding them down, but missing a season.  I would bet a majority owners would (begrudgingly, yes) go for this.  Most teams should be able to make money at 51% BRI (as well as given the changes to the system).  Thus, there is an opportunity cost now.  Again, not an easy task, but this is what great leaders do.

  • sitnonDfence

    Couldnt possibly agree more. Time for someone to grow a pair and be a man about this. Extend the hand and at least give someone the opportunity to shake it, or spit in it. I think the players at this point would more than likely do the former. As usual, Great read Mr. Liston. 

  • MJ don’t play that

    …and MJ will never back down and happy with that

  • Bendit

    Fully concur with the theme. It’s also Stern’s last hurrah as far as further CBAs go. I would give back on the BRI and tighten up on the system….a less palatable bone for both sides as it were allowing a claim of “victory”.  

  • j bean

    The players would still reject the deal you are suggesting. Another point in the revenue split won’t make a difference to the players. The trade clauses and the cap structures are what they say is unacceptable and the reason they aren’t on the court right now. In the same way Stern is speaking for the owners, Hunter is speaking for the powerful super star players and their agents. They would rather take their chances in the judicial system than make any concessions that address concerns of league profitability. 

    • Bendit

      There are but 2 (that I can tell) superstar players that could be impacted negatively by some of the system rules (CP & Howard) in the next 2 yrs. That does not strike me as catering to a significant constituency when the season is at stake. As the post alluded to… for the players it is a emotional/ego thing. But the loss of paychecks for the majority can be a powerful motivator as well. The owners may never get another chance to change the system. 

    • “They would rather take their chances in the judicial system than make any concessions that address concerns of league profitability.”
      How much money will they lose this season – versus how much upside will gain by going to court and dragging this out?

      • j bean

        What you’re pointing out is the obvious logic and benefit to acceptance of the offer. 
        It appears as though their competitive nature has blinded them to the obvious. 

  • Macc

    Will David Stern do this? No. <– Laughed so hard.

    • I likely should have used “probably not”. It mean to be a bit of a challenge.

  • Nilanka15

    Yes, this is rich people arguing with rich people.  Both sides are pretty damn wealthy compared to your average Joe.  But what most don’t realize is that 1 billion dollars is a THOUSAND times more than 1 million dollars.  That means that (generally speaking), the owners have a thousand times more money than the players.  Gee, I wonder who can afford to hold out longer…

    • Ihatehaters

      AND 1 trillion dollars is a THOUSAND times more than 1 billion dollars!

  • Daniel

    To give in to the players’ hubris is leadership a la Neville Chamberlain. The system is badly broken and needs fundamental overhaul. It’s either a league of 7-8 competitive teams or a league with 30 teams having a chance at a title at least every few years. What’s really shocking to me is how little players care about basketball: it’s really all about the money. It still rings in my ears Hunter’s declaration that by going to 52% of BRI they “allow the owners to break even”. With employees like that, who needs a business to make them millionaires? 

  • RapthoseLeafs
  • slaw

    Sounds like they’ve been talking since yesterday…. I would be shocked if they hadn’t been speaking off the record since last week as well.

  • GC3

    Great write up.

  • A small bit of hope:
    “Both the league office and the office of the former players’ association were in lockdown mode Wednesday, a sure sign of the serious nature of the discussions.”
    ” ‘From the players’ point of view, at some point the season just dies, and that’s really bad for them because most of them don’t have good sources of outside income,’ Himes said. ‘And if the image of the NBA does suffer from a prolonged lockout, the opportunities for endorsements aren’t as attractive because the advertisers don’t want to pay for a tarnished brand. So that’s a real disaster for the players. I’m sure they would not like to see the season killed.’ ”

  • Milesboyer

    Can’t be bothered to read this post, don’t care about the NBA…’s fizzled out like a Charlie Sheen implosion…..don’t know why I’m writing this.  I’ve gotten used to the absence and it ain’t so bad.

    • notadumbass

      then leave.

    • JV

      kill the season ! kill the season !

    • Juicy

      “…..don’t know why I’m writing this”

      Neither does anyone else.

  • Robandbernie

    Gotta disagree with one of your first points where you say no-one is winning
    If you listen to the owners a lot of them are saving money by not paying their players

    The majority of owners(not the Cuban’s or Busses) have been waiting for this chance – that’s not a secret

    But anything you can do to get to tip off makes my life better

    • I believe the majority of the teams can be profitable under the scenario I gave.  The teams lost $340 million cumulatively (which includes many that were profitable) in 2009-2010. Moving from 57% to say 51% BRI split mean the owners would have another $230 million to work with. With the more punitive luxury tax and system issues, you should get most teams to a cash flow positive position.

      Meanwhile, the owners are still paying staff, still upgrading some facilities, still not selling $10 beer, etc.  There are costs that do not go away despite the lockout.

  • iwin@paigow

    happy there’s no nba! one less year to see james play his little-girl brand of basketball. one less year to see bosh play his overrated brand of basketball. hopefully people will use the time they would have spent watching “entertainment” television in the nba to watching real basketball (i.e. the sport) in the ncaa.

    • GC3

      oh you mean the league where “student”-athletes are exploited and earn their respective institutions millions of dollars, and yet if they see so much as a penny of it then all hell breaks loose?

      • Ihatehaters

        Yea, that’s the one.

  • Bendit

    Hello there RR admin. people,

    I have been getting periodic feedback from my browsers denying access to your “Forums” because they are infected. What is this? Its been going on for about 3 weeks now. 
    Is anyone else experiencing this?

    • Adam Finn


    • p00ka

      Yup, I asked about it in a post but got no answer

  • Well, I guess Stern read your article.  Tentative agreement reached boys.  Pop the champagne!!!!!!

  • 511

    Who knows, it might’ve got to him. Way to go, Tom! 

  • cesco

    The tentative agreement was reached because both sides knew that it will get the approval of 51% of the owners (actually 15 of 29 owners) and 51% of the players ( within a week , so training can start on Dec 9th) . I think that they got tired of fighting and they decided to call it a draw .