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Hunter references a shifting power structure within ownership.

Oct 25, 2011, 9:00 AM EDT

Mark Cuban, David Stern AP

Billy Hunter provided enough soundbytes on his appearance on Bill Simmons’ podcast to keep folks entertained for a few days. The “we don’t want to be totally exploited” is the header. Also of note is the reveal of Mark Cuban’s “Game Changer” proposal which proposed no cap and just an aggressive luxury tax. The union and big spender owners of course loved the idea, the small-market guys vommed on it, Hunter said. 

But lost in all this was a quiet story Hunter provided which gives more information into the dynamics of the lockout than maybe anything else that has come out. It’s begins at around the 23-minute mark of the podcast

Two quotes of importance from the segment where Simmons asks Hunter about 

“We did a deal at the twelfth hour, but it was only at the twelfth hour that David and the owners were willing to compromise. I think now there’s a different group of owners that make up NBA so consequently I think they’re a lot more dug in. And they don’t owe their success I think as much to David as before.” 


“I think the reason why  David is being so stubborn is because David has a new crop of owners. He’s got all these guys who have come in who are extremely successful, who have made billions of dollars, who have a different perspective. … With the downturn of the economy in 2008, I think some of the owners probably suffered some significant losses in their ancillary businesses and so consequently they think they should make it up on the backs of these franchises.”

Those two bits are going to quietly slip by in the midst of the conversation about leverage, and his relationship with David Stern, and whether the owners were sold on losing a season from the beginning. But then, these two quotes tell us more about the dynamics inside the room than anything else we’ve heard. 

A common element in previous shifts within the Board of Governors resided in the fact that so many of the owners went with Stern. Jerry Buss has seen David Stern build him an empire, and vice versa. There’s a mutual trust there. Donald Sterling was brought into the league by his friend Jerry Buss, as told in David Halberstam’s “Breaks of the Game.” Peter Holt has lead the BoG for years, and has always followed Stern’s leadership, which is what made his recent appearance as a mega-hawk so surprising. Glen Taylor is a long-time friend of Stern’s. In short, during the last deal, there were owners who had seen their investment triple under Stern’s watch and his growth of the league in the 80’s and 90’s. 

But the new owners are entirely different. Many of them are younger, many of them are more cutthroat, and most importantly, none of them owe Stern anything. Instead, they look at the system he’s helped build which has resulted in financial losses on top of the beatings they’ve taken in other areas and resent it. Players have more earning power than ever, but franchises are losing money. If you don’t trust in Stern, if you don’t believe that David knows best, what do you do? 

You revolt. 

There should be one voice in the room, one head, one leader for the league’s efforts, the man who knows more about the league and its issues than anyone. But instead, versus the boogeyman image some, particularly agents through their favorite outlets, are pushing, Stern is being undercut. He was taken out because he was sick. But those meetings went on and Dan Gilbert and Peter Holt were not only allowed but encouraged to put the hammer to the union in last Thursday’s trainwreck with Stern on the sideline because of this new push. In essence, it’s no longer “Father knows best,’ it’s “Stern will get us what we want or we’ll go get it ourselves.” 

That, pieced together with the appearance of Paul Allen, paints a dangerous picture for the future of these talks and the league. 

If you want peace in a troubled region, what you first need is political stability. If you want success and profit in a business, what you first need is leadership and direction. But instead, the NBA is a cartel acting as a group. And within that group there are competing interests within competing interests. There are hawks who just want revenue sharing, doves who want revenue sharing, hawks who want system changes without revenue sharing, and doves who want everything to stay the same. 

Now, Hunter’s statements are spin, meant to prod the media into interpreting the league as unstable and plagued by infighting. You know, articles like this one. But this wouldn’t be written if the events of the past six months hadn’t come through. Everyone outside of the room knows that losing a season is suicide, it’s a lose-lose situation and worst of all, unnecessary. But it’s being pursued, and, again, according to Hunter, it has been pursued since 2007. 

This lockout is about a lot of things. It’s about LeBron. It’s about ego. It’s definitely about money. It’s about opposing paradigms. It’s about business. But it’s also about shifting paradigms and a league which Stern no longer rules with an iron fist. The owners may be confident in Stern’s ability to do his job as commissioner. But they’re more confident in their ability to exert their will and make the world they want it to be. 

Look at their wealth. Why wouldn’t they?

The common refrain is that this is small-market vs. big-market. Hunter was very particular to use the market terms, especially with Simmons who is a big market fan who most often supports big market initiatives. But this conflict is more aligned with new money vs. old money, and suddenly moderates like Jerry Buss are advocating revenue sharing, and both Mark Cuban and Wyc Grousbeck have conflicting reports about their status as hawks or doves. They smell the winds of change, and they want to be on the winning side. 

They just haven’t figured out that everyone’s losing this. 

  1. dcipher80 - Oct 25, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    Why shouldn’t the owners of a business want to be profitable? More importantly, the flaw in the entire system is mentioned but not highlighted in your article, teams are losing money while the player’s earning potential has increased. If my company takes a hit, its ludicrous to expect to make MORE money. If the players want to be treated as partners (as I believe they, as an entity, should) then they should want more competitive balance (salary cap and floor system) and more stability for the franchises (which doesn’t happen without profitable ownership). Getting players with a ton of money and a sense of entitlement with very little business acumen to see the logic in this is the over riding problem right now.

    • Fan On Fire_Maurice Barksdale - Oct 25, 2011 at 6:20 PM

      Good post. I don’t understand why wanting to turn a profit from your business is deemed as something bad? Are the owners supposed to just subsidize players salaries out of the goodness of their hearts? Like they do with the WNBA? How dare those evil owners actually wanting to make a profit.(TIC)

      The fans actions are speaking loudly. The fans don’t like the product being presented so they spend their money on other things besides the NBA. It’s not the economy. The NFL is thriving in this economy, so why isn’t the NBA? Because the NBA’s product is inferior to the NFL and the fans know it. The problem is the players could care less, as long as they get theirs.

      The NFL is constantly changing how they do business to cater to their fans. They realize it’s better to give each team a fair chance to succeed instead supporting dynasties. The NFL became more popular when the age of dynasties died. The NFL is on top, because they have the best business model.

      The NBA could double it’s popularity, if they would just realize that the same teams and the same players winning over and over again actually hurts the league, not helps it.

      • leearmon - Oct 25, 2011 at 7:18 PM

        Parody in the NFL is overrated. Since 2000 there have been only 3 more NFL super bowl champions than NBA Finals champions. Not that big of difference. Also, if you’re a fan of the Redskins, Browns, Jaguars, Raiders, Bengals, Rams, Bills, Dolphins, Panthers or Texans how come Championships, or playoff success havent trickled down to you?

  2. Chris Fiorentino - Oct 25, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    “Also of note is the reveal of Mark Cuban’s “Game Changer” proposal which proposed no cap and just an aggressive luxury tax. The union and big spender owners of course loved the idea, the small-market guys vommed on it, Hunter said. ”

    Of course they vomited on it. Why wouldn’t they? They’d like to be able to compete for free agents as much as the Lakers, Celtics, Knicks, Mavericks, etc. If I owned the Timberwolves or Cavaliers, the way the system currently works, the ONLY way I can win is to get lucky with drafting. Period. Nobody wants to go play for those teams. Name the BIG NAME free agents to sign with either of those clubs?

    50/50 split of the net revenue is more than fair and the players are insane to throw away a season to get a couple more points. Talk to the players in the NHL and ask them how it worked out for them. Missed a year and got a crappier deal. Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.

    • dcipher80 - Oct 25, 2011 at 11:07 AM

      And the Mavs have been unprofitable for years. Love Cuban, great business man, but the Mavs are more of a self promoting tool for Cuban than a legitimate source of income. Other owners want their business investments to turn a profit.

    • leearmon - Oct 25, 2011 at 1:49 PM

      Actually, Amar’e Stoudemire lobbied for a sign and trade to Cleveland two season’s ago, however Dan Gilbert and company thought it was more advantageous to trade for Antawn Jamison instead. Although I don’t consider Larry Hughes a “big-time” free agent, Cleveland paid him like he was one. Shaquille O’Neal also comes to mind. As for Minnesota, Im not sure who they have even tried to sign in free agency who would meet your criteria. But its also worth noting the T’wolves traded the greatest player to ever play for that team for Gerald Green, Delonte West, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair and Al Jefferson. So its hard to feel sorry for them.

  3. sknut - Oct 25, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    I think small market owners have felt that Stern has turned on them and this is where they draw the line in the sand. There is an interesting dynamic that players in the NBA only want to play in certain cities, regardless of how well a team may be doing. I am not sure how to overcome this. The small market owners are done being farm systems for the big boys.

    Its best for the league to have competitive balance, there are great fans in small markets but they are turned off right now and until the system is fixed they will be turned off and more teams will lose money.

  4. khandor - Oct 25, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    Fact 1. The NBA [e.g. 12-player line-ups only, no goalie, no changing on the fly, no short-handed situations, no power play situations, etc.] is NOT similar to the NHL.

    Fact 2. The only way any team in a professional sports league anywhere can actually win the league championship is to: i. Draft well; ii. Trade well; and, iii. Make terrific hires when it comes to its GM and Head Coach, who must each come with a thorough commitment to doing what is actually necessary to win the League Title, as frequently as possible.

    Fact 3. In team sports, the best players want to win as many team championships as possible during the course of their careers. This is the chief reason they actually choose to play the game.

    Fact 4. When given their freedom to choose, the best players will go where they believe they have the best chance possible to win the league championship.

    Fact 5. “Luck”, per se, is very simply the residue of design. Nothing more and nothing less than that.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Oct 25, 2011 at 11:47 AM

      Fact 1…irrelevant the game itself…they are both sports leagues. And in a sports league, when you throw away a season over a couple percentage points, you will regret it. As did the NHL players. Period.

      Fact 2…Cleveland averaged 55 wins a year for 5 years, made the playoffs all 5 years, made the finals once, and won 61 and 66 games the last two years LeBron was there. Seems to me they drafted well, traded well, and made terrific hires, yet LeBron still left for greener pastures. Or maybe, he left for Miami Beach?

      Fact 3 Of course players want championships…that’s why they go to the Celtics, Lakers, and the Heat. The Spurs won because of the Big Fundamental. Period. Lucked into that one didn’t they?

      Fact 4. Or, to the place where they can get the highest profile while still winning…i.e. Miami Beach, LA, Boston, and NYC.

      Fact 5. Maybe in some cases, but NOT in the NBA. If David Robinson doesn’t get injured in 1996-97, I highly doubt the Spurs win 4 championships the last 13 years…unless you want to say they would have been able to do it without Duncan?

      • leearmon - Oct 25, 2011 at 2:06 PM

        Cleveland drafted well? Outside of Lebron who else would you consider a great pick? They drafted Hickson ahead of Batum and Ibaka, wouldn’t call that a great pick. Eyenga? please. How about their signings/trades? Wally Sczerbiak, Mo Williams, Ben Wallace, Delonte West, Antawn Jamison??? Those are the moves you’re bragging about?

        Again, please lets stop with the big market vs small market rhetoric. I live in D.C. top 10 market, NO free agents want to come here. Fact!. Im a Knick fan, for the last 10 years NO FREE AGENTS wanted to play in New York. Fact. Also, many people are ignorant when it comes to market sizes all together. Miami is not the size of New York, LA, Boston, Dallas etc. So if its just about market size, why didnt Lebron and Wade go and play in Philadelphia? Or D.C.? Or join Bosh in Toronto? Bigger markets. Point is thats a foolish argument.

        Lastly, you say the Spurs won their championships thanks to Duncan. Well he had a huge part to play in the chips, but lets not forget, Tony Parker was a Finals MVP. He was selected with the last pick in the 1st round of the 2001 draft. Meaning EVERY TEAM who drafted in the first round that year past on him. Small markets like Cleveland (Diop) Orlandon (Stephen Hunter) Utah (Raul Lopez) etc passed on him. But guess what! Large markets passed on him too! Just like they did with Manu Ginobili. He was drafted in the end of the SECOND ROUND. Point being, you have to have a good front office to succeed in any sport. The Lions were awful for a decade, they got rid of Matt Millen and then they start drafting well, and before you know it they are in the playoff discussion. The same goes for the NBA. If you draft well, i.e. San Antonio, and make smart moves in free agency while not overspending and writing horrible contracts you will have a shot to win a championship.

        And you said “Fact 3 Of course players want championships…that’s why they go to the Celtics, Lakers, and the Heat.” The only free agents I can think about who went to those teams are Jermaine O’Neal, Shaq (who also went to Cleveland) Ron Artest, Lebron and Bosh. Who else? Remember K.G. was traded after he said he didnt want to play in Boston, Ray Allen was traded. Lamar Odom, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol all traded. Not free agency.

  5. therealhtj - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    Listen to the podcast. It’s pretty rich. Hunter sounds pathetic. He also is 100% convinced the owners will come to a compromise at the 12th hour. That’s a pretty big bet considering he gets paid even if the players lose 2+ billion in salaries.

  6. savocabol1 - Oct 25, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    Owners give guys contracts because up until then they deserved it. That player turns out to be nothing more than an expensive seat warmer and the owners are to blame? Why aren’t we ever blaming the player for not playing up to their agreed upon worth? Contracts should be similiar to how servers are paid. Minimum salary plus tips. Players should make a certain salary then load the crap out of it with incentives. If a player doesn’t hit them it is no one but his own’s fault. Lower the base salary of all contracts.

    Oh wait, you don’t like that idea players? Of course not, you want to continue to make a crap ton of money and not produce.

  7. mcallen3 - Oct 25, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    “They just haven’t figured out that everyone’s losing this. ”

    I just love the fact that a guy who has no business experience thinks he knows a lot more than the people who live this all day. It’s particularly odd that the writer thinks he’s more perceptive than some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world.

    Of course, the owners see the stakes. But they have hundreds of millions invested in assets at can’t due to the current business structure turn a consistent profit. Both sides know this is unsustainable. This isn’t a moral issue. It’s a necessary restructuring. Neither side is “bad”. It’s silly to say they should just get a deal done. The only solution–and this is true of any business deal–has to be survivable by both sides. The “hawk” owners simply don’t think they can survive the deal other owners think will be ok.

  8. santolonius - Oct 25, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    if i was a new owner and i came into a system where stern, the players, the old school owners and even the sportswriters were gleefully saying “welcome to the NBA. we have this great system where 3 teams (celtics, lakers, and a rotating third team) are the designated dynasties and they get 75% of the titles. everyone else shares the final 25%.” well if i was a new owner and heard that i would poop all over the status quo too, call a lockout, and c ancel a season. just like i poop on it as a fan of a smallish market team that has been irrelevant for 40 years. boy i am sick and tired of it.

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