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When labor talks restart, who can be NBA’s Robert Kraft?

Nov 16, 2011, 2:06 PM EDT

NFLPA Executive Committee Meet In Washington DC To Vote On New Labor Agreement Getty Images

Right now, the lawyers are the guys putting on the show. The players have their big-gun attorney David Boies filing an antitrust lawsuit. Within a couple days David Stern (a lawyer) and his legal team will respond with their own legal maneuvers trying to crush the rebel alliance, and that will garner headlines.

But the way this will end is with settlement talks.

The argument technically shifts from “how do we build a collective bargaining agreement?” to “what collective bargaining agreement can we reach so we can throw the lawsuit out?” but it is essentially the same — two sides talking across a table. When the owners and players agree on a CBA the lockout and all this will end.

They did that in the NFL when Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Colts center Jeff Saturday threw the lawyers out of the room and agreed to keep negotiating, regardless of what advice they got from said lawyers. From ProFootballTalk, here is what Saturday said:

“The big shift came when owners and players began to negotiate by ourselves,” Saturday told NFL Network. “You really began to see men’s personalities and what they believe in. Robert Kraft was instrumental in getting this deal done. … Each and every one of us understood what he was going through.”

Have the NBA negotiations ever been humanized like that?

The NFL sides met for 16 straight days and hammered out a deal. The NFL season started on time.

For all the legal wrangling (and the differences in the talks), that is how the NBA lockout will end. Lawyers will want to use litigation to solve problems the same way surgeons will want to cut even when it is not the best strategy. Somebody needs to take charge, be rational, put Stern and the hardliners to the side, and just make this happen.

The problem is, who can be the NBA’s Robert Kraft?

Mark Cuban? He has the personality, but would the hardliners really accept the deal from one of the biggest spending owners (The only team that has spent more in the last decade on salary is the Knicks. Thanks, Isiah!). Small-market owners see him as part of the problem, not the solution.

Michael Jordan? He’s a hardliner that the players don’t trust right now so he will not work. It’s not the personality of Jerry Buss (or even Jeanie) to leap into this kind of fray, plus they again are big spenders. James Dolan? Do you really want him to craft a complex business deal about basketball? Same with Micky Arison. He can pick the place I go to dinner anytime but not sure he gets to be the man here.

Could a hardliner from the owners become the voice of reason and pull it off — Ted Leonsis (Washington), Herb Kohl (Milwaukee), or even, gulp, Dan Gilbert? (Insert your own “CBA written in Comic Sans” joke here, I’m not doing it for you.) Maybe a moderate such as Peter Holt (San Antonio) could, although he has been in front the whole time and nothing.

It’s the same on the players’ side — who could be their Jeff Saturday? Derek Fisher, Chauncey Billups, maybe even Etan Thomas?

Both sides are not going to like the ultimate deal struck, that’s how negotiations work. But if the NBA season is to be saved in some form, the sides need to start viewing each other as people not enemies to vanquish. Somebody is going to have to take charge, be rational and not take no for an answer.

Sadly, I just don’t see who can do it.

  1. goldstar4robotboy - Nov 16, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    Problem is, when Robert Sarver tried, a few months ago, asking league and union officials to leave the room so owners could speak directly with the players, Stern flipped out and tore him a new one.

    So, no. Not happening.

    • irish2u2 - Nov 17, 2011 at 11:43 AM

      Robert Sarver is the LAST guy you want in the room. OK, that was wrong. I’d rather have Sarver than Donald Sterling but neither should be part of the negotiating process. Sarver is one of the hardliners mainly because he overpaid for the Suns franchise and then wouldn’t make the necessary changes (translation: spend money) to get them over the top as a championship contender. I think Kurt makes some good points that a big market owner isn’t the way to go as well as any of the hard core hardline owners. So who is left standing that carries enough weight to get the deal done?

      Herb Simon of Indianapolis. He’s a small market owner but he’s also a basketball fan and I can’t say that about all the owners. Simon is known as a calm and rational man, people who work for him love the guy and he isn’t a yeller or screamer. He’s also been an owner in the NBA for over 25 years and he is looking both short term and long term.

  2. sdelmonte - Nov 16, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    Anyone have a clue what sort of negotiator Kohl was in the Senate? Did he reach across party lines to hammer out bills? Because that this what this calls for.

  3. sunsation3413 - Nov 16, 2011 at 4:06 PM

    Jerry Colangelo might be able to pull this off. Former owner and respected by players.

  4. SmackSaw - Nov 16, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    Gavin Maloof. The Maloof’s have a lot to lose.

    • deadeyedesign23 - Nov 16, 2011 at 8:29 PM

      Plus that’d be a great storyline for when The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills starts up again. Amiright fellas?

  5. eaglessuperfan - Nov 16, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    I don’t think the players really want to go the lawsuit route at all. I think this is there bluff. They are just hoping to get he owners to cave on something they think is a deal breaker.

  6. goforthanddie - Nov 16, 2011 at 5:32 PM

    Ted Leonsis has been there with the NHL, he might be able to smack some sense into people.

    • irish2u2 - Nov 17, 2011 at 11:52 AM

      Ted Leonsis may be one of the worst owners to have in that room. He WAY overpaid for the Wizards franchise (according to Forbes paid 551 million last year for a franchise worth 320 million) and his NHL experience isn’t needed. The NHL was on the brink of collapse with nearly all the teams losing massive amounts of money and fans. The players had to give in to the owners or there would be no NHL. The NBA had record revenues and fans last year. It is NOT the same situation as the NHL.

      You don’t want any Maloof in that room and certainly not a politician like Kohl. You want a diplomat. Jerry Coleangelo is a very good choice and I like Herb Simon of the Pacers. If he wasn’t a big market guy maybe the best businessman in the NBA is Jerry Reinsdorf and he wants a deal done.

      As a Knicks fan James Dolan is not a guy I would depend on though he has surprised me a lot by being the cushion between the hardliners and the NBAPA.

      The two guys who should be barred from the room, hotel and city where the negotiations take place are David Stern and Billy Hunter.

  7. 1historian - Nov 17, 2011 at 6:45 AM


    problem solved

    my work here is done

    (you can thank me later)

  8. lltony - Nov 17, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    I truly believe Mark Cuban could be that voice of reason.He is love by players respected by them as well. Now he is a big time spender but I think he does understand the concerns of the owners and the players.

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