The Player’s Need For Unified Expression

Here we are. Stuck, helpless, and very, very frustrated. After Monday’s decision by the player’s union to unanimously reject the owner’s “last best” offer, it’s now evident that the multi-billion dollar tug-of-war decision will be placed in the hands of our nation’s brutally efficient judiciary system. Scary words (litigation) have replaced happy words (basketball). Lawyers and judges will do what dozens of grown millionaires could not, as they determine whether the owners were bargaining in good faith (swiiiiing and a miss) and if players have the right to cry about it.

Stuck, helpless, and angry is not a viewpoint shared by fans alone. Oh, no. It’s also the feeling of several active working force affiliates. And as one of the league’s top scorers, Kevin Martin seems to be the hushed group’s most noteworthy—and outspoken—member. (Other who’re believed to agree with this stance include Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake, LaMarcus Aldridge, Glen Davis, Samardo Samuels, Chris Duhon, JaVale McGee, and at least 19 unidentified players whose agents told they would be all for accepting the deal.) Over the past few weeks Martin has made several heavy statements that could easily be translated as discontent with unfair representation. Here are a string of his quotes revealed in early November by both Sam Amick and Henry Abbott:

“If you know for sure [the owners] are not moving, then you take the best deal possible. We are risking losing 20 to 25 percent of missed games that we’ll never get back, all over 2 percent [of basketball-related income] over an eight- to 10-year period [of the eventual collective bargaining agreement].

“Let’s be honest: 60 to 70 percent of players won’t even be in the league when the next CBA comes around.”

“When [players] are negotiating as free agents, we’re always saying, ‘Well I’m going to do what’s best for my family,’ so now we’re lying, because right now, losing money isn’t helping our families at all.”

“I’m not criticizing the fight our union is doing, because they have been in every meeting adding up to countless hours and have been breaking down every number possible. I believe in them and know they have the best interest for us. My opinion — which is just one of 450 players — is that if it comes down to losing a season and 100 percent of the money, we all definitely have to sit down and think about reality. That doesn’t sound smart to possibly become part of the [country's] growing unemployment rate.”

“We have to back our union until the wheels fall off. Hopefully they don’t fall off, and we can get a deal everyone can live with.” 

The words are reasonable—albeit a bit shortsighted—and despite backtracking with a defense of the player reps and all their hard work, the quotes show clear dissidence with the union and its heavily promoted public image of a tight, unified body. Now that the 2011-12 season has cemented itself in serious jeopardy, and proverbial wheels have been set on fire, Martin’s comments shifted towards the less politically correct end of things. Here is what he had to say after the league’s “nuclear winter” was forewarned on Monday:

“I think it’s fair for every player to have a vote, because we’re all grown men and its time for the players to control their career decisions, and not one player per team. If it comes down to a final decision, you got to be fair.” 

This is a near 180 degree reversal from what was said just one week ago, and as Adrian Wojnarowski’s latest column points out, Martin and his fellow players have a right to be uber-pissed.

Too many of the player reps didn’t know the difference between a disclaimer of interest, decertification and “Dancing with the Stars” when they walked into that meeting. As it usually goes in these labor talks, whoever gets the players’ ears last can talk them in and out of almost any directive. The agents were locked out, cell phones confiscated at the door, and Hunter had a captive audience with some big fancy antitrust lawyers to make his case. Too many of those player reps are young kids who were given the task as a locker-room punishment, or older guys looking for the free annual meeting in the Caribbean.

Hunter should’ve been out recruiting the best of the best for this labor fight, but why would he want Shane Battier in that room, challenging him, asking him like he did in June: Why are you still taking a salary when the NFL’s DeMaurice Smith gave up his during the lockout?

The point of a union is to have elected leadership promote and protect the rights of a labor force, but when those reps are appointed for the simple reason that nobody else wants to be one, then how could the organization be expected to function properly? It can’t, and the result is what we just saw—less an explosion, more so the stench of a dead mouse’s body seeping through your floor boards. Whether or not the owner’s proposed deal is fair is not the point—because obviously it wasn’t glowing. We know it wasn’t fair, and what they were doing should be deemed illegal activity. What’s being discussed instead is the rights every player holds in determining their own future, and whether or not losing a year’s worth of their salary (millions of dollars) would be something they’d like to partake in.

What Jeffrey Kessler and Dan Wasserman said in response to Abbott’s question about why the union wouldn’t open their voting to all members was obdurate thinking. The NBA isn’t every other union; what you have are guys with limited educational backgrounds negotiating with amounts of money most unions could never sniff. In the NBA’s union, it’s blatantly clear that elected representatives were either unqualified or uninformed about what it is they were in fact voting on, on behalf of their fellow players. It comes off as a mild form of brainwashing on Billy Hunter’s part, and it’s sad. For the fans, for the players, for the owners, for the local businesses, for the league’s employees. It’s just sad. Everyone who’s perched at the top deserves blame—Hunter, David Stern, Kessler, Derek Fisher, Adam Silver, Paul Allen, Michael Jordan, and Peter Holt to name a few—but it’s those sitting near the bottom who will end up suffering the most.

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