Etan Thomas and the 99%

With it looking more and more likely that the NBA players will reject the owners’ latest offerEtan Thomas took to the pages of ESPN to explain the players’ side. I found the piece very interesting, especially how Thomas chose characterize the debate.

Thomas deliberately uses phrases from the Occupy Wall Street movement to make his case for the players’ side. He’s not wrong exactly, but I’m not sure it’s the right move for the players.

For example:

2. The NBA CEOs know that their proposed system functions as a hard cap, because no team will be willing to pay that strict a penalty for going over the luxury tax. Do they think the players can’t see that?

3. Do the NBA CEOs think the union can’t see that this “new revision” is worse than the proposal they gave us last week, even though the “clock has stopped” on their ultimatum?

4. Are the NBA CEOs convince the union can’t figure out that the way in which they constructed and defined the mid-level exception, no team will ever use it?

[snip]

6. David Stern obviously issued his “terrible deal now or even worse deal” later ultimatum because he wanted to scare the players into meeting his every demand. Did he really expect that his threat would cause the union to come running with apologies for being bad employees and beg him to let us go back to work?

7. When the union was given the two options of a horrible deal now or an even worse deal later, why are people really surprised that we chose neither?

Interesting choice of words, no? He calls NBA owners “CEOs” which I have never heard before. Thomas isn’t exactly wrong when he says the deal is bad. That’s not just his opinion either, the NBA’s deputy commissioner Adam Silver called it “a difficult pill to swallow.”

Thomas continues:

13. If Occupy the NBA were to happen, would the occupiers see the NBA CEOs as the 1 percent who want to impose their corporate greed, power and will on their employees?

14. A few friends of mine told me that although they appreciated my support for the Occupy Wall Street movement, I would never be considered as part of the 99 percent (they made the distinction that I was more like the 5 percent). My question is, if an Occupy the NBA were to happen, would the players be lumped in with the 1 percent because of million-dollar salaries?

15. While the issues raised by the Wall Street occupiers differ from the issues of this lockout, aren’t there obvious parallels in power imbalance?

16. Who is in the same position of power as the 1 percent ? Who wants a bailout for their own mismanagement decisions? Who is more closely aligned with the corporate interests from which the Wall Street occupiers are looking to reclaim the country?

[snip]

22. During the NFL’s lockout, Troy Polamalu said, “I think what the players are fighting for is something bigger. A lot of people think it’s millionaires versus billionaires and that’s the huge argument. The fact is, it’s people fighting against big business. The big business argument is, ‘I got the money and I got the power, therefore, I can tell you what to do.’ That’s life everywhere. I think this is a time when the football players are standing up saying, ‘No, no, no, the people have the power.’” Isn’t it interesting how the common theme here is power and greed?

23. If your boss came to you and said, “Listen, I know we are coming off of record overall profits as far as overall revenue and the most lucrative year in history but we have made some individual decisions that we are not happy with and we need you to take massive pay cuts. We need you to agree to construct the rules so that we can no longer make those mistakes, and we want you to make it easier for us to get rid of you if we choose.” What would your reaction be? Would you say “Some money is better than no money,” or would you gather the rest of your fellow employees and stand up for yourselves?

The owners aren’t negotiating in good faith. The players have gone from 57% of the BRI (basketball related income) and now stand at 50-50. The owners said they were losing $300 million a year and the players have given back $350 million. Players have made concessions but it doesn’t matter.

The players have been losing battle for public opinion for awhile now:

One of the reasons the union has been playing from behind since the first quarter of these negotiations is that the league has successfully framed the terms of the dispute in the public’s eye, and the union never made it clear what it was fighting for. Early on, David Stern latched on to the ideal of a 50/50 split of revenues, the simplest concept for the public to grasp. What’s more fair than 50/50? How could the union not take that and get the season under way?

All the union leadership countered with was vague talk about “system issues” and how they were unfair. They didn’t put it in relatable terms. They didn’t bother to ask the fans how they would feel if they were told where they had to work for their first four years out of school or if their employers, with no advance warning, could send them to another city. Fans like to counter that it doesn’t matter because the players make a lot of money, but the salaries are irrelevant — doctors, lawyers and Wall Street traders can be highly compensated as well without the same restrictions.

That’s the rub, isn’t it? The players are paid a shit ton of money to play a freaking game, we don’t really care about the in’s and out’s of the deal, we want to watch fucking NBA basketball.

Again, Thomas isn’t wrong but he’s fighting an uphill battle when he compares the players to the “99%”. I respect Thomas for trying to tie the players’ labor battle to a bigger picture (though at times I felt he just tried to use current ‘buzzwords’) but it’s simply not good optics for millionaire players to compare themselves to, you know, actual poor people.

(Hell, the Occupy movement itself is dealing with this same optics issue. Sure, unemployment is awful, the US has major “system issues,” not to mention rising inequality but hey, those damn protesters have iPods! So who cares if the rich don’t pay taxes or our policies hurt the poor the most? Most of “the poor” in this country own refrigerators, so shut up!)

As Thomas points out in his piece, every time the sides get together to negotiate, the NBA leaks these “we’re getting close to a deal” and “we have reasons for optimism” rumors and then when things fall apart, the players take the blame. Fans aren’t really concerned with their ‘plight’ because most fans think these guys are overpaid as it is. A crappy labor deal for the players is still a better job than 99% of us can get.

Do I understand why the players might decertify? I think so. But I can’t imagine a scenario where the players decertify, we lose an entire season and then a year from now the owners offer them a better deal. Things will only get worse and the players will take the blame for the lost year.

Is it worth it? I dunno. Is it fair? No. But that’s where we’re at.

Etan Thomas and the players will decide on their lose-lose options on Monday. If they accept the deal, games will begin December 15th.

This entry was posted in Big Market Lust, Cavaliers, dirty hippie politics, Media, NBA, taxes. Bookmark the permalink.

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