CBA Talk: Kill for Money, Die for Faith

From a purely physical standpoint, there’s almost no difference between the two pieces of paper above. They’re the same size, same weight, and are made from largely the same material and ink. Yet one is worth five times the other.


Because we believe it to be true. Collectively, we, the citizens of the United States and most of the world, have agreed that these pieces of paper have value. We agree that the markings on them will tell us how much value they have. By shared consent, we have imbued these specifically decorated clippings with power. “Cold, hard cash” is neither cold nor hard, yet thinking makes it so.

We don’t need heroic events or valiant victories against daunting odds to see the power of a shared belief. We need only to walk into our local pub, slap down a green piece of paper similar to those pictured, and get back a nice frosty pint.

And that’s why the money is easy. Everybody comes from pretty much the same place. It’s just math. More is better. Less is worse. It’s why David Stern said, “…we know how to negotiate over dollars when the time comes.”

The system is an entirely different beast. The system — and what it means — is an article of faith. While people will do all sorts of depraved things for money, it’s nothing compared to what they’ll do for what they fervently believe in.

Which is why the following comment from Ken Berger is off base.

But with agreement on the dollars within reach, it seems incomprehensible that the season or a big chunk of it could be lost over how those dollars are distributed.

What Berger misses completely here is that there was never any chance whatsoever of games being canceled over a difference in BRI split. None. The structure remains in place for a settlement in the next few weeks along the lines of what I wrote about on Tuesday. If the owners just want the money, then they’ll play out the charade for a while, then make the money grab. Meanwhile, there was never any chance at playing games until the two sides agreed (or one side acquiesced) on the subject of the system: the cap.

How those dollars are distributed isn’t a minor point.

It is, perhaps, everything.

Or … at least everything to the people who will cast the up or down votes on each side. Each will view the agreement in terms of how it affects them, first and foremost. As we all would, regardless of how twisted that may or may not be.

Tom Ziller of SB Nation recently shared his thoughts on the matter.

That’s why this hard cap is a “blood issue.” Not because it has a lobster’s chance in Maine of creating competitive balance, not because it will hurt all players’ ability to earn. It’s a “blood issue” because owners want to pay less money to supplemental players and because supplemental players want to keep making money. It has nothing to do with the health of the game. It has nothing to do with fans. It has nothing to do with fairness. It’s just stupid. 

That’s all well and good. But here’s the problem: both sides believe they are “the game.”

The players believe they are the product, and thus, “the game.” And the owners believe that they are the stewards of the teams, which they view as the product, and thus, “the game.” Each assumes what is in their best interest is in the game’s best interest. So the only way either can “hurt the game” is to give in to the other side, which — in their view — is a stubborn impediment to the future health of the game.

Does it matter whether or not a hard cap will actually create competitive balance? No, it only matters that an owner believes it will help him. In fact, an owner doesn’t even have to believe that. He only has to believe that the current system hurts him.

Does it matter whether or not the fears the players have about a hard cap (best outlined by Zach Lowe’s outstanding piece) are true? No, it only matters that they believe them.

The agents have been portrayed in some corners as a potential bad actor in these talks, and certainly, they are looking out for their interests. However, if they believe that negotiation can only lead to lost paychecks, lost BRI split and the players eventually having to swallow a hard cap, then isn’t their responsibility to advocate a different course of action?

Does it matter that we think that any or all of the beliefs held by members of the two sides are wrong, even silly? No, because they will act on those beliefs just the same.

Supposedly, the actor Willem Dafoe was once asked about taking roles as villains and his response was, “Good guy. Bad guy. Don’t make no difference. Everybody thinks they’re righteous.”

And that’s why this lockout is on the verge of lasting a very long time. No matter how hard we work at creating a narrative around the lockout that features heroes and villains and secrets and lies and intrigue and greed and missed opportunity, it will always be bullshit. We are too trapped in what we believe — in what we want — to give fair reading to what the parties believe.  We’re righteous, so how can those who oppose us possibly be?

The owners want to control their business, and the players want to keep what they think they’ve earned.  Each will do what they can to get what they want — nay, what they feel they deserve. The owners have locked the players out. Whether or not they will cancel games or even a season to achieve their goal depends on how many of them are “devout in their faith” in the need for a hard cap. The players will resist, go overseas and possibly seek legal intervention in one form or another (probably decertification and anti-trust litigation) to achieve their goal.

I don’t know what the outcome will be. I know what I want, and what I don’t want, but those are ultimately of no importance. This confrontation has been brewing since before the last lockout, and it has to play all the way out sometime.

For those hoping for a full season, hope that this really does become just about money.

People will kill for money, but they’re rarely willingly die for it. If it remains focused on the hard cap and the system, then it’s far more likely to become a crucible. If that crucible lasts a season — or results in decertification — then no one has any idea how the NBA will come out the other side. But that is of small concern to those emboldened by the courage of their convictions.

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Tags: CBA Talk Collective Bargaining Agreement Platoon Willem Dafoe

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