What's Better for the Union: Lebron's Presence or Kobe's Absence?

This weekend the NBA Player’s Association is hoping management will sit down with them for some informal talks about the upcoming CBA negotiations. This wouldn’t be an official, on-the-record bargaining session.  But the union sees the all-star weekend as an opportunity to fold many high-profile players who don’t sit on the union’s negotiating committee into the talks.  This tactic serves two purposes: show management that the stars support the union’s bargaining position and won’t break ranks, and to expose those stars to management’s intransigence and hopefully move them further towards the union’s position. 

The NBAPA pulled this same tactic during last year’s all-star break, during which they had an actual on-the-record bargaining session.  The session was reportedly pretty heated.  The league put a proposal on the table that would gut most of the gains the union has made over the past 15 years, and reduce the players’ share of revenues by around 20%.  James, Anthony, and Wade all attended this session.  And then again this past fall the NBAPA brought James, Anthony, and Wade to negotiations. 

The tactic doesn’t seem to be working, however.  Anthony’s comments after negotiations were mostly neutral, imploring both sides to come to a “mutual agreement.” When asked about his involvement in the negotiations, he basically just claimed to have an interest in them as a “face of the NBA.” 

Lebron James went even further.  Just this past December Lebron got caught telling reporters that he thought the league needed fewer teams, specifically calling out the T’Wolves and Nets, and saying that superstars needed to team up on fewer teams to improve the league.  Derek Fisher, president of the union, was quick to say that he totally disagreed with James and that the union didn’t support contraction, one of management’s proposals.  Many other players and even some coaches came out against James’s comments, much to his surprise.  He quickly issued a statement claiming he had no idea what the word “contraction” even meant.  I’m sure he’s telling the truth, but even in this embarrassing revelation, he never actually apologized or retracted his comments.  He was still on record as supporting contraction. 

The problem with Anthony and James’s comments are that they show that this tactic of bringing superstars to bargaining hasn’t really accomplished anything vis a vis these players’ vocal public support for the union.  Even now as James gears up to attend the informal meeting in LA this weekend (if the owners even agree to it), he has issued mealy-mouthed explanations for his attendance, saying that he has a business interest in the outcome of negotiations.  (perhaps he is bringing his rabbi with him)  When all we hear from players like James and Anthony are either neutral “can’t we all just get along” statements or flat-out pro-management statements then the union has done itself no favors by dragging these guys to the table the way they have.  If anything they are helping management by highlighting their inability to move these superstars to their position.

Then there is Kobe Bryant.  Easily the most valuable player in the league from a financial point of view, Kobe has much to lose in these negotiations. Here’s a guy who should by all accounts be the poster child for management’s position.  They would love to pay him twice as much money as they currently do, while paying the majority of players in the league far less. And Kobe has a lot to lose from a lockout, given that he may not have many more chances to surpass Jordan’s record for championships. He could easily be out there chirping about contraction and the salary cap restrictions for the league, or some “mutual agreement” noise at the very least.  Here’s what he’s saying on the record, though:

“I think the owners need to look in the mirror,” Bryant said to CBS Sports. "They need to make the right judgment themselves and stop trying to force us players to be the ones to make adjustments. They’ve got to look in the mirror and decide what they want to do with the sport, and we as employees will show up and do what we’ve got to do." 
“It’s about making sure we have the best deal going forward,” Bryant said. “That’s my stance and that’s not going to change. I’m not going to waver. It’s about taking care of the generation that’s coming after us. That’s what the guys before us tried to do, and that’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m not going to waver from that.”
“The deal that they have on the table is crap, simple as that,” Bryant said. “It’s just principle. We make a lot of money regardless. It’s always frustrating when they try to pit us as selfish or greedy or whatever. We make a lot of money as it is. A lot of it is principle to me.”
“We’ll stick to our guns, and hopefully we’ll learn a lot from what baseball has done and the great union they have and how they take care of their players,” Bryant said. “Hopefully, we’ll have the same situation.”
“You have to take responsibility for the contracts that you pay, and for the players that you pay.”

So Kobe’s obviously going to be at the table this weekend in LA, right?  Nope.  He says "I'll leave it to the lawyers and those people that know what they're doing to handle those situations."

Given the union’s tactic of showing the league’s biggest stars shoulder-to-shoulder at the table when they meet with management, isn’t Kobe’s absence conspicuous?  Perhaps.  But given his public comments, and paired with the comments we get from James and Anthony, even Kobe's absence feels more like an unambigous show of support for the union than a snubbing.  And Melo and Lebron’s presence is a very public demonstration of their lack of confidence in their union to advocate on their behalf.

Perhaps Billy Hunter ought to figure out how to get the union’s secretary-treasurer, James Jones, to play Martin to Lebron's Malcolm  Union president Derek Fisher almost certainly isn't up to the task. When asked after Lebron’s contraction comments if he planned on dealing with James about it after their matchup on Christmas Day, Fisher said "I guess it depends on if we win or lose.  The conversation will go a certain way based on that, I guess."  Chances are they didn’t get around to it.


Post a Comment