In the current CBA the players’ union has been on the defensive; defensive with negotiations, defensive in the media front. In neither setting has the union held a position of strength.
The CBA Battle
Who blinks first; who can stand more loss. The owners are older and supposedly more mature. The owners should have been able to prepare themselves for real lost revenue (games lost) and projected lost revenue (short and long term loss of money from post lockout lower attendance). But what is their pain tolerance point?
There’s a potential splintering of owners; owners that want to get a deal done and other owners willing to let the NBA go nuclear, destroy the union the league and to control power within the owners too.
The players’ union claims they have prepared themselves for the last year; if so, the rank and file should be prepared for an extended lockout. Some players may not have heeded the advice to save for a very cold winter or simply did not earn enough long enough to offset the loss. Except for the Andy Warhol-ish 15minutes of fame JaVale McGee’s of the league, the union may be as prepared for a long fight; if they can keep the rank and file together.
There is not much the union can turn to their related to the CBA; they need to fight the good fight and hope to ride out the storm still upright and intact.
The PR campaign
It may not have been planned, but Bryant Gumbel may have done a huge favor for the union with his tantrum. Gumbel’s words painted Czar Stern, fair or not, in a light uglier than any the players could have tried to say. The commissioner’s offense has to tread lightly in how they treat this and not make it worse.
Players take the offensive
Keep going down the right path, keep positive, and keep negotiating; and take the battle (or game) to the owners, literally. One thing the players can do that the owners cannot is to bring the game to the public. Formalize and commit effort towards charity games; build out the barnstorming tour and take the tour to the NBA cities. Pursue a short term TV contract to televise the barnstorming. ESPN and Fox won’t bite; but someone who will never have a chance for a NBA contract may be willing. Commit and succeed in this battle and it hurts the owners.
Follow Danny Granger’s example and payback time and money to the employees of the arenas that are suffering. Granger invited employees of Conseco Fieldhouse out to dinner.
The Players’ Nuclear Approach (Kids, don't try this at home).
NBA is the only sport where the players truly do have the power to press the big red button and blow everything up. It is short-sighted, could end very badly and is not recommended; however, the framework is there.
1. De-certify the union. The owners could argue in court that all contracts signed while the union was active become null and void. But if the union is taking the offensive the would want all contracts voided by the court.
2. Gamble on owners go rogue. Hard line owners are fighting with major market owners. At what point do major market owners truly tire of the game and the revenue extortion. There are contracts and rules and agreements the owners sign up for when buying a team; but at what point do select owners decide to split off. I could see Mark Cuban take this fight to court.
3. Go Old School. Build a new player league, maybe 8 teams all in major markets with the star players and the rebel owners. Without the owners, the player league would not last long term. Without the star players, the NBA, at least initially, would have no star power and a minor league talent pool closer of players. With legit owners a foundation is in place to battle the NBA for development of the future new players.
4. Sign a TV Deal. Years ago and mostly forgotten was the tale of the NFL and AFL. The two leagues merged, driven quite a bit by the AFL successfully pursuing the NFL quarterbacks (Roman Gabriel, John Brodie). The league talent and owners were comparable in strength and skill. But hidden key to success was that both leagues had major television contracts (Super Bowl I was actually televised live by two networks). Without a major TV contract in place, the whole deal falls apart. If you can steal away legit owners, TV will follow. The ABA did not succeed because it did not have a network TV deal.
A ruling from the NLRB may be coming very soon. This could change things a lot.