There has been plenty of blame to go around during these NBA collective bargaining talks, and neither side has been shy about impuning the other. But this week’s story has been very different, at least publicly. 23 hours worth of positive talks over two days has reignited hopes of a compromise that nearly vanishedcompletely after last week’s similarly lengthy discussions were abruptly and contemptuously ended by that familiar name calling and finger pointing.
This is even better than last week, where the two sides just agreed not to say anything at all to the media - that is until the hostile post-negotiating presser a week ago. You know, the one where Union President Derek Fisher said NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt lied during their podium time?
This time, there has been none of that. Nor has there been last week’s awkward silence, denoting negotiations that perhaps weren’t as positive as we had thought. This time, the sides have even been complementary of each other! During Billy Hunter’s press conference following an eight hour Thursday session, commissioner David Stern sat in the back of the room lobbing lighthearted banter at the Union’s Executive Director!
Both entities have acknowledged progress in the talks while being careful to note that a deal has not yet been reached. But the general tone from these weary press conferences has even the most cynical observers raising their ears. The most dedicated reporters, those few who have pulled all night sessions in hotel lobbies just to await the possibility of news, have even expressed an upbeat optimism. This time just feels different.
It feels different despite the fact that the main issue – the split of BRI, or basketball related income – has not yet been addressed. And it feels different even though the BRI issue was the main reason talks broke off last week. In order to avoid a similar incident, the sides agreed on Wednesday that they would table the BRI discussion until all of the system issues – the mid-level exception, rookie scale, contract lengths, etc – have been worked out. With both sides preparing to resume BRI discussions on Friday, it would appear that many of those other gaps have been bridged. And if that is the case, with the possibility of salvaging the entire (yet modified) 82 game schedule hanging in the balance, the sides will be extra motivated to compromise on that final point.
Thursday night’s press conferences were alsonotable for the change in terminology. Until now, both sides have talked in very large generalities about the time frame for a deal and the progress that had been made.
On Thursday, Fisher talked about negotiations getting “tougher towards the end;” a line that clearly indicates the finish line coming into view. Meanwhile, Stern made several references to Friday as a “big moving day” that could ultimately lead to a deal. These may seem small movements to the average fan, but are, in actuality, gigantic leaps forward. The NBA and NBPA are no longer appearing as adversaries. They now have the feel of two sides collaborating to meet the same goal. Moreover, that goal is within reach.
So while the optimistic are also still cautious, and the cynical still cling to their doubts, the negotiating process trucks along toward its final destination. It appears, after all the madness, that cooler heads will finally prevail.