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Dear Mr. Thomas: A response to Etan Thomas’ Op-Ed

Nov 13, 2011, 12:34 PM EDT

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Etan Thomas published an op-ed on ESPN.com on the state of the labor talks, discussing 23… pause… questions surrounding the lockout. There’s a lot of quality things in there, but as always, there are two sides to every story. Except the story that Dan Gilbert, Paul Allen, Robert Sarver, and Michael Jordan should not have been involved in this process in any direct manner. That story’s pretty air-tight. Same for KG. But anyway, here’s some answers for Mr. Thomas and his questions. So I’m not block-quoting the entire material and stealing ESPN.com’s pageviews, I’d recommend opening it one tab and this in another.

1. Well, probably for players to stop commenting publicly on Twitter that they’d take it. Or stop telling the Washington Post that if they’re not going to get a better deal than 50/50 in the future that they should take it, like John Wall did. Or stop making it clear they’re not paying attention to the labor stuff by telling reporters “I’m not paying attention to the labor stuff.” And if you want the real answer to that question, maybe ask your agents why they think they can manipulate the union through the media the same way by putting in scare elements that don’t exist in the proposal like the D-League element. How’s about that?

2. Come on, now Mr. Thomas. If there’s one thing we’ve learned throughout the history of the NBA, there is always an owner overwilling to pay for a terrible player/team, much less a good one. Even with the restrictions, the big spender teams will still spend. And lots of smaller ones will too because they’ll think that championship is right there and that will make it worth it. Its’ a disincentive. Not a wall. The flex-cap? That’s a wall. They said they wanting to curtail spending. They came off the hard cap. It’s a ridiculous concession, I’ll agree. But let’s not act like the players or anyone else can predict how the owners will spend, especially when in the past it’s been “lots, in bad ways.”

3. I don’t think that’s what they think at all. Considering Adam Silver came out last time and said it was a hard pill to swallow, directly, in those words, they’re more than aware of how bad it is for you. That’s part of the power play. Let’s not act like they d think you’re too stupid to understand it’s a worse deal. They just don’t care. They’re being malicious, not short-sighted. That’s you guys. You’re the flip. Well-intentioned, not seeing the whole board.

4. Not for nothing, but I’m of the opinion that something described as an “exception” shouldn’t be used regularly. It should be used for certain circumstances. But I’m willing to bend there. The point with it only being for teams not in the tax (or cut in half as is currently reportedly proposed) would ring true here if you hadn’t just said no one would be in the tax. So which is it? No one will spend in the tax, or no one will use the MLE because they’re in the tax? Because otherwise, that MLE still exists as an option, just less of one. I’m not trying to tell you it’s great, or that it should have been cut as it has. I’m saying don’t spin that it’ll never be used. That’s rhetoric and everyone is sick of that from both sides.

5. Yes. And they were idiots for thinking that. Good for you guys for blasting the G.O.A.T. because he sold you out. It’s a disgraceful turn for someone there should have been no misconceptions about regarding his character off the floor. Great basketball player. But for that guy, who has been a part of a dozen horrible basketball business decisions to come in trying to bully you just because you had his posters on your wall when you were kids is an insult to your intelligence and conviction.

6. He expected you to take the deal because he’s exerting leverage. And considering the option of “bad deal nor or worse deal later” is still a choice, it’s reasonable for anyone to expect you to take the deal, opt-out in six years, and live to fight another day. It’s understandable you want to fight. But you’re making this personal from Stern, and it’s on that level that they’ve managed to get you on tilt throughout this process. The more you react emotionally as a union, the worse it’s gotten. If you want to get leverage back, raging at the machine is not the path.

7.  Again, because that makes logical sense. I likened it this week to people being upset that an innocent man wouldn’t take a plea bargain. Everyone thinks “if you’re going to be convicted anyway, you take the deal, spend less time, and go on with your life.” But the innocent man can’t accept that, because he’s innocent. The problem is that you’re not going to prison. You’re still getting paid a great wage for your work, still going to have another chance at changing things back in six years, still going to be some of the best paid entertainers in the world. It’s not fair. But it’s logical to take the deal. If you don’t, that’s fine, but don’t get indignant that fans and media want you to save that nose just because you hate the face.

8. Woah, woah, woah, there, Mr. Thomas. This has made me nuts all week. The sports media has never  been as friendly to you as they have been throughout this process. You don’t want people questioning why it is that you’re paid as much as you are to play a game? How about you not question the hard work that has proven to be responsible on the part of a group of journalists who wanted to cover you guys actually dribbling and shooting instead of wandering in and out of meetings in sweaters and hoodies? (Not you, Mr. Thomas, your taste in suits has been impeccable. Speaking of which, where’d you get that vest last week?) The NBA media has repeatedly pointed out to the public you’re not the ones who started this, you’re not the ones being unreasonable. So why do you insist on repeatedly coming after them just because it’s convenient? It’s cheap, easy, and reeks of hypocrisy after your comments about not coming after athletes in labor talks just because they’re paid well.

9. But you won the last labor deal, according to anyone who considers such things. And the 2005 showdown. Your point is valid, but that speaks more to the nature of business than anything. Also, if you knew this was how it would be from so far back, why are you so woefully unprepared each time it happens?

10. Done. Great idea. No kidding. If they’re so bad at making money with the NBA, they should get out of the “making money with the NBA” business.

11. Mostly because that’s a drop in the bucket and most of those contracts aren’t negotiated by agents who (very successfully) blow up the costs. If you want to aim for cutting costs instead of player salaries, you should have gone with “how about not overspending on our buffet meals,” or “how about we ride coach,” or “quit giving the media pre-game meals.” Are you happy, Mr. Thomas? I’m now going to get the crap beat out of me by beat writers everywhere.

12. Not a bad idea. Unfortunately not enough media will cover it, rendering it without power. You need an icon, and sadly, you guys are it and you make too much to curry the public’s favor. It’s unfortunate, but it’s how it is.

13. Um, well, yes, that’s how that would work, there, Mr. Thomas. It’s not exactly rocket science.

14. There are quite a few who think the players also make up that 1 percent and that’s not helped by some of the political statements of your colleagues, or the lack thereof, despite the massive amount of charity work and funds you and your colleagues have raised. Speaking of, you are aware of how much charitable work and funds are lost every day the lockout continues, right? You didn’t start it, but if you want a reason to end it, I’d implore you to consider that as one. Greater good, sir.

15. There are, and not to try and speak for the Occupy Wall Street Movement (the only thing I occupy is my couch with my kid when “Sesame Street” is on), but the reality is that the Occupy Wall Street Movement is at least on its surface fighting a perceived oppression and corruption. It’s hard to ague the NBA players face either when the worst case scenario here is that you still make hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. It’s just a rough comparison. It’s not without merit, though, at least on an intellectual level.

16. If this was Nike being occupied, how would you and the players feel?

17. There have been studies that say that won’t happen. They’ll always come back. The economic terrors that face us don’t make people turn on sports, it makes them turn to it as a distraction. Considering the socio-economic background of the vast majority of the NBA (Spencer Hawes as an obvious example of an exception), players don’t need to be educated on how bad it is under the poverty line, obviously. But shouldn’t that serve to grant them perspective on the minor gap they’re fighting over?

18. Their response is obviously that if higher competition (which, let’s be clear, I think is a sham in the context of their demands, but we’re going to humor them for a moment) will lead to more fan participation, which will drive revenues and popularity, which leads to higher ratings which leads to stronger revenues overall and more money for the players despite a 57 percent cut. It’s easy to argue the league is being unreasonable. Arguing this will make the league demonstrably worse is a bit trickier. If you want to go that route? Aim for the “fans like trades and flexibility” swing. That will go over much better than “their proposal makes the league worse!” That won’t fly well with most.

19. No. They don’t care. And I’m not saying the media does a better job. We do worse, because we just get used by both sides. Nothing will impact the owners. They’re hiding behind limousine windows and will do what they want. The only threat is a legal one, and if you’re truly as educated as I believe you are, Mr. Thomas, you know that’s not a viable strategy.

20. Kudos to you for wanting to take race out of it. I’m not an expert on races so I can’t speak to it. But there certainly is a perception issue to the fact that so many of the owners are white and so many of the players and their leadership are black. It’s an uncomfortable subject for everyone but probably one that needs to be discussed, especially since so many of the owners’ positions seem to be reactions to LeBron James’ and Carmelo Anthony’s exertion of power over the past year. They don’t like that the players have exerted power and control over their lives. And that position has a number of ugly side-effects.

21. Because of your own union’s position that they are fighting not just for themselves, but for the rights of future players. The union has long made this into a moral fight, not just an economic one. I won’t pretend to say I know which of the two it truly is, it’s probably a mix of both. But for Jordan to have fought that fight and then completely bailed when it was convenient for him speaks of a betrayal of values, of as selfish, self-centered approach most people don’t like. Jordan doesn’t have to care they don’t like it, but it would be irresponsible of the media, the players, and fans to paint an excuse for Jordan just because he’s popular.

22. I just got done talking about that, so I won’t follow-up, except to say that if the players really believe that the owners are being greedy and that greed is bad, they need to keep that in mind the next time their agent goes into a negotiation to pull in more than that player is worth. You can argue against selfishness and greed, but you need to hold to it. Otherwise, admit everyone’s greedy and move on. That’s what most people do.

23. My dad raised me to believe that you can’t let people bully you. You have to stand up for yourself, and you have to draw the line for yourself. But let’s be clear. Most people in this country really would be happy to just be able to earn the wage you and your colleagues can. They don’t need as much money as you make to live the lives they want to lead. It’s unreasonable for the owners to have asked what they have, it’s in my non-legal opinion that the league has failed to bargain in good faith, from the length between negotiating sessions to their intractable approach, and it’s clear that you’re going to get screwed when this process is over, regardless. But you need to acknowledge that not everyone would fight for this, that is a choice you’re making as a union. If you explain those reasons better, without stupid hashtags or off-the-cuff statements (hint: insulting the work of MA students is not the way), and manage to keep JaVale McGee locked in a closet (or at least in the Philippines), you’ll do better. Your position is reasonable, if not always sympathetic, but don’t forget that the customers who feel you should take the deal aren’t always being selfish or ignorant, they just have a different perspective.

And seriously, someone buy Matt Bonner a suit.

Thanks your time you likely did not grant me, Mr. Thomas.

Sincerely,

Matthew R. Moore

NBC Sports’ ProBasketballTalk.com

  1. seanb20124 - Nov 13, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    In Washington he was only known as a poet , and the guy Brendan Haywood beat up in practice. It was unbeweavable

  2. rreducla1 - Nov 13, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    Well, probably for players to stop commenting publicly on Twitter that they’d take it.

    ——

    In a negotiation like this, PR is a minor factor, but the players need to do a better job with it. If I were NBPA, I would take this deal, re-trench, and plan for the next one, with a few PR adjustments:

    1. Tell the players to stay off social media when it’s about the talks. No complaining, no calling out the owners. Only Tweets etc. should be personal stuff and encoruaging stuff telling fans to hang in there
    2. Drop the solidarity photo ops with 25 guys standing behind Hunter and Fisher.
    3. Use 3-5 spokespeople who stay on message.
    4. Key part of message should be, “The Fans are the Real Owners of this Game. All of us on both sides of this table are just the caretakers.”

    They also badly under-used the stories/personalities of three players, one of whom is actually on the exec board. They need to find facsimiles for next time: Those players are:

    1. Matt Bonner: Bonner is articulate, good-humored, and a “rank and file” guy, who plays on the most successful small-market team in league history. Plus he’s white. Bonner should have been out there reminding people from time to time that small-market teams can make it happen with luck and management. Getting Duncan was luck, yes. But he STAYED because they RAN THE TEAM WELL. And Ginobili and Parker were acquired due to QUALITY MANAGEMENT.
    2. Kevin Durant: Durant embodies everything that Stern and Silver SAY is not happening. He is a likable star on a small-market team. He has re-upped to stay there. That team is a solid contender. He can tell people, without dissing James, to remember that not all superstars are alike. He could talk about how great the OKC fans are. He can talk about how great it is to live in a smaller city. And someone other than Durant could use the story to remind people that Stern and Bennett pissed on the city of Seattle.
    3. Derrick Rose: the Bulls, not the Heat or the Mavs or the Lakers, had the best record in the NBA last year, And they were built almost entirely through the draft:

    Rose-drafted
    Deng-drafted
    Noah-drafted
    Asik-drafted
    Gibson-drafted

    The one big FA they have, Carlos Boozer, signed there because they were good and had cap space–the same reasons he signed with his previous team, Utah.

    Like I said, negotiations are about leverage, not PR. But the players need to do a better job with PR.

  3. therealhtj - Nov 13, 2011 at 4:23 PM

    Comparing NBA players to the plight of the unemployed in this country? Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuure.

    He’s probably most concerned with off-season drug testing anyway.

    Moron.

    • kinggw - Nov 13, 2011 at 8:01 PM

      Says the guy who assumes Thomas smokes because he has dreads.

      Dumb ass.

  4. thegonz13 - Nov 13, 2011 at 7:57 PM

    Why put a picture of a guy from Milli Vanilli?

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