In the high-stakes poker game that the labor negotiations between the NBA owners and players have become, the players have moved all their chips to the middle of the
It’s something Commissioner David Stern couldn’t have expected and now the ball’s in his court, to use his own sport’s analogy. The players have decided to disband their union and are prepared to file an antitrust suit against the owners for an illegal lockout within the next few days.
Along with Jeffrey Kessler, who represented the NFL players in an unsuccessful lockout suit against the owners, the players also have hired David Boies, who was the owners’ counsel in that suit. Why would Boies align himself with the other side of a case when the circumstances seem eerily similar? Unless he knows something that nobody else does. And he thinks he can use that knowledge to win and really make a name for himself as well as a ton of money for him and the players.
University of Notre Dame Finance Professor Richard Sheehan, who specializes in the economics of sports, senses that “the owners have been put in a box here” and that the players may have the upper hand with the legal team they have assembled. “They may smell blood in the water and the owners may get to the point where they feel they better settle to avoid the triple damages (that would be awarded),” Sheehan said.
“Stern may go to his legal team and say, ‘What’s the worst-case scenario here?’ ” Sheehan theorized, concluding it is better to broker a deal than get wiped out and possibly lose everything.
Sheehan thinks there’s a definitive split among owners who want to play the season and those who are “awfully close to punting,” as Sheehan put it, because the difference in the amount of money they’ll lose in playing the season or cancelling it will not be that substantial. “There’s the Miami/L.A. Lakers camp which wants to play and then there’s the Dan Gilberts (Cleveland Cavaliers owner) and Michael Jordans (Charlotte Bobcats owner), who are probably going to lose money either way and wouldn’t mind seeing the season just get shut down,” Sheehan explained.
The owners claimed to have lost $300 million last season but Sheehan, the author of “Keeping Score: The Economics of Big-Time Sports,” said, “That $300 million figure is fantasy. It’s off the wall.” The owners have never allowed the players to look at the books to check the accuracy of this figure.
Sheehan views the odds as “50-50” that the season will be cancelled and says the owners have about two weeks to figure out how to save face and save the season before the action hits the legal courts.