Lockout Time Capsule: How Serious Was David Stern About Canceling The Entire Season?

I'm writing the opening of this article now (Friday afternoon), post negotiation analysis on Monday night, and we can laugh about how wrong I was, but for the moment...

When David Stern threatened the loss of an entire season if "major progress was not made", I was skeptical after my initial fan panic.  After all, it's kind of like threatening to spank your child with an ax (apologies to Robert Heinlein).  Sure, it's intimidating.  But it's a response that seems so out of proportion to perceived stimuli, we might wonder if David missed his meds.

But really...not so much.  It's possible we're finally seeing the NBA's response to the threat of players signing overseas.  This is brinkmanship on the razor's edge, the kind usually reserved for lunatic sea captains during a full moon.  Both sides have shown a willingness to budge, and Stern knows it's dangerous to lose momentum.  The problem with a prolonged stalemate with plenty of rhetoric is that both sides get comfortable with being in the right (with trumpets) and become less interested in negotiating away from their 'ideological' position.

Most see this as direct shot across the NBPA's bow, but it's a warning to the owners as well.  You will fall in line and not compromise major progress provided the players are truly coming to the table.  The Robert Sarver and Dan Gilbert mini-scandal cracked the monolith of the league's negotiating position, which while many considered inevitable in some form, will serve as a thorn in Volde-Stern's side. Having an outspoken minority hampers trust on the opposite side of the table, similar to the situation, albeit in microcosm, Billy Hunter faced with the rumored superagent coup.

In short, with the player's escalating their overseas threat into action, David Stern was left with no cards to play, because they were already on the table. So this grandiose threat is simply a reminder to the NBPA that the owners are about as inimidated as, say, the Great Wall of China was by the Berlin Wall. Yeah, the league might say, you've got resolve, but ours is visible from space.  All so much posturing.

Monday's reaction after the jump.

When NBA labor talks resume Friday, NBA commissioner David Stern is planning to threaten players with the cancellation of the entire 2011-12 season if the sides haven't made major progress toward a deal by the end of the weekend, according to sources close to the talks.

via ESPN

"Whatever the eventuality is, the idea that we would at an early stage cancel the season is as ludicrous today as it was" when it was reported, Stern said. "It’s just not in the cards. The only thing that we said is that it’s hard, in terms of negotiations, if you start to lose regular-season games, because both parties’ positions harden."

via NY Times

"I don’t take myself as seriously as you do," Stern told reporters. "I apologize. It’s good that we had the players and the owners here and that we could vet a lot of things."

via NY Times

Well, we already knew David Stern liked to manipulate the media, and most of the blogosphere was ready to call shenanigans.  However, with Stern acknowledging his grandstanding in the media, threats made from "sources close to the talks" are going to lose a lot of weight, making it even more imperative significant progress is made before this week's negotiations conclude.  The media will be sure to hold Stern directly accountable for such rumors in the future before they put those words to print.

Negotiations continue regardless, and the NBA world holds its collective breath.  To tell you the truth, David Stern's slightly positive slant on the weekend's talks strikes me as a little ominous.  All too easy to imagine Stern shedding crocodile tears in the media once the current round has wrapped up.  'And we were really making progress, it's such a shame union leaders weren't willing to continue negotiations' or some such.  So while I was on the 'all talk' train pre-weekend, it's clearer than ever that Stern is ready for a season without basketball if the union doesn't cave, and soon.  It's out there despite him never straight stating it in the media.  I knew the guy was good...but jeez.

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