Reports surfaced Wednesday night that NBA commissioner David Stern was prepared to drop a bomb on the union when collective bargaining talks resume on Friday by saying he will cancel the season if progress isn't achieved over the weekend. The league has since denied these reports and, quite frankly, it's much too early to go nuclear.
But it is a critical point in the process and that is why the union has brought in not only its executive committee, but asked several star players to join in the proceedings as well. So we'll see D-Wade, LeBron, Melo and Co. showing their support with their presence, but what does it really mean at this point?
This isn't 1998-99, when the union was led by some of the biggest names in the game, such as Patrick Ewing, who served the union president role now held by Derek Fisher. The stars back then were also influential voices, such as Michael Jordan, and Jordan and Ewing's agent, David Falk, was also in the background.
But the stars of today don't have the influence over their peers that a player such as Jordan or Alonzo Mourning or Dikembe Mutombo had back then. Let's be completely honest here and acknowledge the fact that while Kobe Bryant is the greatest player of this generation, he mostly isolates himself from others. LeBron doesn't garner nearly as much respect off the court as he does on it. Wade might be the one superstar player who is, within the union ranks, universally well-liked and respected.
And while the stars won't dare to publicly admit it, you can bet they are ready to play now. Why? Because hard cap or soft cap, they will always get their money and security. Same for the lottery picks in their entry level contracts: they have security. It's the middle class players that have the most to lose and, unfortunately, as it is in real life, they will likely lose. The question these middle class players, who make up the majority of the union, have to ask themselves is if they are willing to lose salary now to make some difficult concessions or are they willing to risk losing even more later and still have those concessions to make in January.
And do you really want to dig in and lose an entire year just to see everyone bleed?
That will be the question asked within the union ranks on Friday. Perhaps they will try to rally the troops with the solidarity cry and those "STAND" t-shirts, but at what point does the posturing become too costly? At one point does this talk about protecting the future of the game become hollow, because you also severely damage the future by losing a season. More importantly, you damage your own future.
No, Stern won't immediately cancel the season, but the NBA is reaching endgame here and the players, deep down, have to see that. One of the most important reasons why: They are not properly prepared for this lockout, not the way the league is prepared.
As Falk recently said in an interview with a Toronto radio station: "It’s my understanding that the owners project if there’s no season, they’ll lose $1.5 billion and if there’s no season the players will lose $2.167 billion in salary, probably another $200 or $300 million more in endorsements."
And know this: the union withheld the players' annual merchandising cut ($35,000 a year, minus the $10,000 in annual union dues) for the last three years as a war chest to help players through a work stoppage. So a group that was, on average, scheduled to make about $5 million this season has $75,000 of relief, per player, sitting in the kitty. Understand that is less than the average take per week.
This is what the owners will use as their leverage. The players may have resolve, but most of them don't have security. It would be dangerous for the star players to step in and start a fight for the sake of posterity without the understanding of what it will mean for the current state of the union.
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* - After a summer of sneaker tours, fashion shows and appearances on various television shows, the Knicks two main stars will reunite on the basketball court in October. But instead of it being at Knicks training camp, which was scheduled to open Monday (before the NBA indefinitely postponed all camps due to the ongoing lockout), Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire will be on enemy turf in Miami.
The two will be part of a star-studded charity game, one that -- hopefully -- will be the finale of all of these games the barnstorming NBA stars have participated in over the last few weeks. This one, scheduled for Oct. 8, will be hosted by the Heat stars, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James, and is expected to include all the big names, such as Melo, Amar'e, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant, among others.
And yes, since the lockout forbids the players access to an NBA venue such as American Airlines Arena, the game will be held at FIU, where Isiah Thomas -- run for your lives! -- is the coach. [I have to admit, there's an evil part of me that wants to see Isiah serve as celebrity coach of the Amar'e/Melo team, just to see certain heads explode. Alas, the coaches have already been selected: comedian Kevin Hart and rapper Rick Ross. Maybe Isiah can serve as the general manager. Then again...].
It will be the first time Amar'e and Carmelo have been on the court together since the season ended with the four game sweep to the Celtics in April. It'll also be the first time we see Amar'e, who spent most of the summer recovering from a pulled lower back muscle, in a full court game.
[But forget all of that irrelevant stuff about Amar'e and his physical condition or seeing the two Knicks stars on the same court....Isiah will probably be in the building! Cue the panicked anonymous face turning to the camera, pointing in the distance and screaming, "Godzilla!"]
And if this weekend's critical large-group meetings between the NBA and the players union fails to result in some tangible progress toward an agreement, the next time we see Amar'e and Carmelo together on the basketball court will be Oct. 19, when Amar'e hosts his Knicks teammates for a minicamp at the IMG Basketball facility in Bradenton, Fla.
After that? Who knows.