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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NBA Season in jeopardy, but the Circus is in town

It's mid-November and the NBA is supposed to be in town, complete with its superstar players traveling on chartered jets while they stay at luxury hotel suites and cruise on fancy tour buses to the state-of-the-art-arenas, complete with ritzy locker rooms, weight rooms and practice facilities. The home team rolls into private players-only parking lots in their Escalades, Bentleys or Maybachs, secured like the Marine Corps bunks at Quantico. They report to work, just like the rest of us, they claim. They are members of a union, portrayed as the rank and file who "just want to play basketball."

Derek Fisher announces disqualification of NBA union
As of today, the union, formerly known as the National Basketball Players Association, has been disbanded, disqualified, blown-up, kaboom.  They have not decertified, mind you, as that legal tactic would require each member of the union to trudge into a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional office for a full and formal vote. The union, formerly known as The NBPA, took a short cut to save the time and money of decertification, mainly because its members prefer listening to N.W.A. over schlepping to the NLRB any day of the week.

The charade of decertification, err, disqualification is a thinly veiled attempt to re-gain lost leverage which weighed heavily in the favor of the NBA team owners and their representatives in the league office. The threat of disbanding the union to file lawsuits and challenge the NBA under anti-trust laws was taught in sports law class years and years ago. Labor lawyers like to hear themselves talk in courtrooms as their firms cash seven figure checks all along the way as the laborers fork over as much as $25 million a year (as Kobe Bryant of the LA Lakers might do). The litigators like to litigate and they do it in the name of the rank and file and for future players of generations to come.

Lost in the shuffle are the many arena workers, the vendors, parking lot attendants and restaurant owners and servers in the close proximity of the arenas occupied by the NBA team some 41 nights a year.  The lost wages of those workers is simply the high cost of low living, but the owners and players apologize, just the same to the workers and fans.  The are sorry that they've left the fans with extra leisure time and some serious discretionary income to re-allocate between December 15, 2011 and June 15, 2012.  

The arenas will do their best to fill the dates.  In fact, they've been chomping at the bit to gather up uncertain dates of the future and turn them into cash flow with a concert, Disney event or an extended run of the "greatest show on earth," the circus.

To this observer, the circus has long been in town.  It didn't have a big top tent nor did the elephants walk to town through the Lincoln or Sumner tunnels.  I've been watching the NBA version of a circus and it started this past summer and continued to make appearances on a monthly, then weekly, and lately, a daily basis.  The usual acts were replaced by new high wire acrobatics that might make the original creators of the Cirque du Soleil blush from embarrassment. The NBA circus scores high on un-intentional comedy but registers pretty low on public opinion polls.  It rolls into all corners of the earth, mainly from media reports which now carry the news globally.

The Ring Master of Ceremonies for this year's NBA Lockout Circus is none other than Metta World Peace, the artist formerly known as Ron Artest.  Peace made his legal name change in order to "inspire the youth of the world," many who might've been led astray when Peace's predecessor, Mr. Artest, started one of the worst brawls in sports history when he was a member of the Indiana Pacers and decided to charge the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills, near Detroit, to discuss foreign policy with a Pistons fan who had tossed a beer cup in his direction as he lay prone on the scorer's table, patiently awaiting the referees' decisions from a scuffle that he began with Detroit center Ben Wallace after a meaningless, hard foul.  After nearly taking the NBA down with the aftermath of his ill-timed Auburn Hills meltdown, Artest sought refuge and began to remake his image to the point where the pro basketball writers later awarded him with a citizenship award.

In my circus, Metta World Peace is ably assisted by the NBA's David Stern and his deputy commissioner, Adam Silver while the players serve up executive director Billy Hunter in a way the Republican party served up Sarah Palin as a vice presidential candidate in 2008.  Hunter has deputized his longtime legal counsel, Jeffrey Kessler, and they have run the equivalent of a legal three-ring circus, dating back to February 2010.  Derek Fisher, a respected member of the former union and well-liked and well-spoken representative for the union, has tried to tame the legal lions that run his union and that of other major sports. 

The non-union, formerly known as the NBA Players Association, is the comedy act of this circus. This summer, they carefully managed to avoid scoring high on the Richter Scale of stupid labor comments, marks previously set by the likes of former union members Patrick Ewing ("We make a lot, but we spend a lot.") or Latrell Sprewell (I've got a family to feed.").  Instead, they scattered like stock brokers heading to the phones when the lockout was announced on July 1, 2011. The members sought millions from the NBA's global popularity, globetrotting to the very lands that the NBA farmed for decades with hopes of growing the pie called "basketball related income."

Deron Williams, an all-star guard, headed to play in Istanbul, Turkey while Kenyon Martin, a one-time #1 pick of the NBA Draft, flew off to China.  Amar'e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks wondered out loud if the players might form their own league one-day, as he spoke of having a long-term plan and strategy that was -- obviously -- not very strategic and hadn't been baked very long.  Other MVP players, like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Lebron James talked-up a world tour with an Atlanta-based organizer who set jets on a course for San Juan (Puerto Rico), London (England), Macau (China) and Melbourne/Sydney (Australia).  When it came time, the circus-like tour never made it to San Juan as the organizers realized just what it takes to stage games on a global basis and on four continents in a matter of weeks. Hysterically, there were media reports, albeit on Fox, that had the dozen-plus player participants making between $500,000 and $1 million for their efforts with 'profits' going to charity.  The un-intentional comedy meter hit "laughable" when you added up the potential dollars from ticket sales and subtracted expenses like first class flights and hotels, never mind paying out somewhere between $6 and $12 million in salary from gate receipts of five meaningless and poorly promoted exhibition games.  It was amateur hour at the circus and we all laughed a few laughs at the players expense as their act of the circus was funnier than any clown prince could imagine. It was so pitiful, it might've made Emmett Kelly smile, God Bless his soul.

If that weren't enough, we had another (former) union member, the one and only Allen Iverson, entering the big-top as an event organizer in Las Vegas. Iverson planned a two-night event in Vegas to coincide with a championship Pacquiao-Marquez fight at the MGM Grand.  It sounded great until the only players to show up for the pre-event publicity announcement were Iverson and Al Harrington, not exactly a roomful of support for Iverson on the high wire, and more like a "Roomful of Blues" at the posh HoB, near Mandalay.

Sprinkled in and out of the keen public eye, the NBA circus of the summer of 2011 brought added attention the Drew and Goodman summer leagues where name players like Kevin Durant registered mega-point performances to grab headlines and streaming video time, previously held for great performances in the Las Vegas summer league or the various player charity games.  Other news bits saw the retirement of Yao Ming, the arrest of Jarvis Crittenton, a handful of drug, weapons violations and a DUI or two -- one by a prominent team GM, RC Buford of San Antonio.  Yes, the players and lawyers were not the only acts in the circus.  Hell, Kevin Love played volleyball at the this circus while Kobe Bryant unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a payday in his former stomping grounds of Italy.   Maybe, the financial advisers conventions in Greece and Italy scared off a few of the circus actors from taking the plunge from "death defying" heights.

In the second ring of the summertime circus, the featured actors were team owners.  Usually a button-downed group, the owners of NBA teams let their hard-line stance be known in ways unimaginable to those who follow the NBA closely.  Inexperienced owners in Cleveland and Phoenix piped up as they undermined the league's hierarchy.  Even respected team owners, like San Antonio's Peter Holt, were quoted as saying to players "that they haven't felt enough pain."  One owner, the esteemed Micky Arison of the Miami Heat and Carnival Cruise fame, was fined for 'tweeting" his viewpoint of the failed labor negotiations with his tweet ill-timed, according to the NBA leaders who've used their twitter accounts, NBA TV, and several media blitzes to try to reach the rank and file directly while swaying public opinion.

The third ring of the NBA circus is reserved for nasty creatures, also known as the scum of the earth, the wicked, the dangerous men and women who are worse than snakes in the grass or the piranhas of the Amazon.  They are the "agents" and they are to be positioned as the scapegoats of this summer of BRI impasse.  The agents lurk in the shadows of the circus and attempt to manipulate the union lawyers with their own selfish desires.  They band together in groups of six or seven but when the likes of the tamers such as the late Clyde Beatty or Gunther Gebel-Williams come along, they refuse to sit idly as the circus acts swirl around them.  Instead, they plunge at the jugulars of the player reps, or lesser-known, fellow agents and union leaders who might someday be allies. The third ring of this circus is not where you want to be.

And that leaves the concession stand.  The circus might come to a close after a run of more than 137 consecutive days and the NBA might strike a new deal if some of the circus animals slither over to the concession stand.  But, they will have to hit "dictionary (dot) com" on their way over, because the concession that I write of is not the type that sells cotton candy or beer and hot dogs.  It is another definition of the word, a variation from the Latin verb "concedere." It calls for things to be granted in response to a demand from another and it hasn't been uttered or practiced in the two and a half years of NBA labor talks.  The news of today makes me think this circus act is growing old on the once faithful fan base.

Can you pass the popcorn, please.  I'm going to the movies instead of watching the game.

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