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Winderman: Tone of labor talks could lead to fewer player/fan interactions

Sep 27, 2011, 1:21 PM EST

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The traditional defining moment of the end of NBA lockout is the handshake between David Stern and Billy Hunter, followed by some sort of blathering about the “partnership” going forward.

Until now, with a defined percentage of revenues going to players, there was something to be said about the legitimacy of that partnership. When league revenues went up, the cap went up and the players shared in the growth.

When revenues declined or remained flat, the escrow withheld from players’ salaries would offset the shortfall.

But now, as the parties resume negotiations, there is talk of a differing approach. The league still is tying the agreement to percentages, but one formula being proposed would set a percentage for the players at the start of a new agreement and essentially then hold firm to that actual annual cash payout. As league revenues grow, the players’ share would not grow commensurately.

And that could change the dynamic dramatically.

No longer would the players be given the opportunity, as the parlance goes, to “grow the game” for mutual benefit.

That, in turn, could turn what mostly has been cordial into something more contentious.

Among the secrets of the CBA are mandatory appearances by players on behalf of teams, yes, including many of those supposed feel-good interactions.

For all the spin by the various PR machines, the players are required, yes required, to make those appearances.

The previous agreement called for 12 appearances per season, corporate and fan events mandating an hour of the player’s time.

Beyond that, the previous CBA called for four “connects,” meetings of 30 minutes or less with fans or fan groups.

While operating the league and union as a true partnership, it not only was not unusual for players to stay longer than required at such appearances, but players often would willingly exceed those 16 required appearances.

That, after all, is what partners do.

But when growing the game only grows one side of the equation, one has to wonder how far the good will would extend.

In recent years, the notion of partnership has fueled the NBA’s growth. The last thing the league needs now is a hollow handshake at the end of this contentiousness.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

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