The NBA playoffs begin today with an undertone of urgency seldom seen.
Every player knows a lockout is looming. Within days after handing over the Larry O’Brien Trophy to the 2011 NBA champion, David Stern will pronounce that a business model that generates billions of dollars is broken because too many go to employees who wear baggy shorts, not business suits.
After Friday’s Board of Governor’s meeting in New York, Stern promised the league soon will make a new offer to the players’ union.
Nobody expects a breakthrough, not after deputy commissioner Adam Silver’s reiteration that the league’s goal in negotiations with the National Basketball Players Association hasn’t changed. The owners continue to seek a new system for sharing all those billions because, Silver said, “the system is unsustainable.”
Of course, billionaires continue to line up to buy into this broken system, undercutting Silver’s contention. On Friday the league heard from one billionaire begging the Board to approve his purchase of the Pistons, one of one of the league’s worst ?Eastern Conference teams, and from another willing to buy the Kings, one of the West’s bottom feeders, for the privilege of keeping it in a market Stern deems too mis? guided and miserly to deserve a franchise.
Meanwhile, players nearer their 39th birthdays than their 30th — Tim Duncan (days shy of 35), Shaquille O’Neal (39), Jason Kidd (38), Antonio McDyess (36), Kurt Thomas (38), Andre Miller (35), Marcus Camby (37) — wonder if these playoffs might afford their last best chance at ultimate NBA glory.
No player needs additional motivation to fuel the incremental drive that produces playoff success, but the notion that there may not be another opportunity to win a championship until 2013 compels an extra measure of focus.
Duncan understands, perhaps more than most. He won’t turn 35 until April 25, but his left knee and ankle feel older. His contract runs only through a 2011-12 season jeopardized by the potential work stoppage.
The fact his team will have home-court advantage through the Western half of the playoffs underscores for Duncan the special nature of this playoff run.
“Every game, every playoff run, everything is special right now,” he said. “This is the end of my career here, the last couple years. I’m not taking anything for granted.”
The Board of Governors told Spurs owner Peter Holt — and others on the Labor Relations Committee that Holt chairs — that it wants them to have the new proposal ready to present to the union in a few weeks.
The commissioner insists he is optimistic, but mostly because of his own nature.
“I’m an eternal optimist,” he said. “I hope the proposal will indicate to the players that there’s some modicum of flexibility in our approach, and we’re trying to engage the union in dialogue.”
He also understands that what’s at stake is every ounce of goodwill and momentum forged with the league’s fans through one of the more remarkable seasons in league history. TV ratings and attendance are up, and the league’s three biggest markets all have teams worth the attention and loyalty of the citizenry.
“I think fan sentiment going into the playoffs and Finals is going to be terrific,” Stern said. “If we don’t have a new collective bargaining agreement by the end of the old agreement on June 30 I think the fans will be disappointed in us and the union.”
Disappointed falls far short of reality.
Disgust comes much closer.
Let the playoff games begin. They may be the last we see for a long while.