Like most things in life, some insight to the NBA lockout can be found in The Godfather movies.
You know, wisdom such as, “Keep you friends close, but your enemies closer.” And “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” Things that apply to everyday life — if you happen to be carrying a cannoli.
Well, in one scene, Michael Corleone is in Cuba during the early days of the revolution. He witnesses a rebel setting off a hand grenade to kill himself and a soldier, rather than be taken into custody. In recounting the incident, Michael is asked by wise, old Hyman Roth what the event tells him.
“That tells me they can win,” Michael says.
Yes, if a rebel is so dedicated to the cause that he would rather blow himself up than be taken into custody — then the rebels can win.
And that is the part that applies to the NBA lockout. If the owners are so adamant in their position that they are willing to torpedo an entire season — then they can win.
Not that the players are buying it. As Derek Fisher, president of the players’ union, said Friday: “My gut tells me that there’s no way Commissioner (David) Stern and the NBA would damage their business by making us miss a whole season.”
My gut tells me Fisher’s judgment is about as sound as Moe Green’s when he tells off Michael Corleone.
Of course, that is what the owners want the players to think, and the media has been willing to spread the message. Many stories have been written suggesting that owners are willing to hand-grenade the entire season, and that has turned the media into an effective negotiating tool.
One of the most effective tactics in negotiations is to make the other side believe, really believe, that you don’t really care, that you are willing to accept the nuclear option.
The owners have done that. It might merely be a ploy, but it doesn’t mean that the stories are inaccurate.
As Darren Rovell of CNBC wrote in an open letter to Billy Hunter, executive director of the union: “You’re not getting a fair deal because you don’t have leverage to get a fair deal.”
Yet prior to a meeting with players on Friday, Hunter said: “I’ve got a group of ballplayers who are sophisticated enough and they’ve said to me, ‘Billy, hold the line. This is what we want you to do.’ So I’m doing the players’ bidding. I may be negotiating with a short deck, or a small deck, but we’re negotiating.”
The problem is that Hunter has no deck to deal with. The players have no leverage because the owners are willing to blow the thing up. It’s not so much a matter that the owners can win, it’s a matter that they inevitably will win.
The previous contract called for players to receive 57 percent of Basketball Related Income, and the owners opted out of that deal. The players are demanding 53 percent in a new deal, and owners are holding fast at 50 percent.
According to Rovell, that 3 percent amounts to about $840 million in player salaries over seven years. One lost season would amount to about $2 billion in player salaries.
“I give you $2 billion this season and you give me $840 million over the next seven seasons. That’s what we have, Billy. And you have to take that deal,” Rovell wrote.
Sounds like an offer they can’t refuse.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or online at firstname.lastname@example.org. To “Like” him on Facebook, search for “Greg Jayne - The Columbian.”