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Lockout Predictions Are A Waste Of Air

Tuesday, 23 Nov 2010 | 9:08 AM ET
Basketball
Basketball

On Monday, after helping to distribute some 2,000 turkeys to the needy, NBA union chief Billy Hunter told the Associated Press he was "99 percent sure" there would be a lockout at the end of the NBA season."

The sides were so far apart, Hunter reasoned, that a eminent lockout was the only conclusion he could see.

"Right now they're being unreasonable and I can't tell you when reason's going to set in," he said.

Well Billy, let me help you.

When you made your statement, there were 220 days until the Collective Bargaining Agreement expired (June 30, 2011). More than 19 million potential seconds of negotiating time. More than 316,000 minutes to reach a compromise. More than 5,200 hours before the sides would officially reach bottom.

That's a lot of time.

And, what needs to be understood is, it's that time that is the greatest enemy of negotiation.

You see, history shows us in labor negotiations both in sports and the real world, that true negotiating doesn't begin until at least one side feels pressured by a deadline. With so much time left, there's no reason for either side to buckle. An artificial deadline of making substantive progress by the All-Star Break in February has been set, that deadline is exactly what it's called -- "artificial."

Until a group of workers stare unemployment in the face and an owner or a company truly contemplates not being able to sell his product or service, there's no reason to step forward and make a deal. The new terms wouldn't start until the current deal expires and who knows what will change between now and then.

Perhaps the owners, coming off $170 million in new season ticket sales, realize by June that the financial system needs to be tweaked less. Perhaps the union, which has been presented with some $350 million in audited losses from the owners last year, realizes by May that the ultimate driver of casual fan interest -- the Miami Heat -- isn't even going to make it to the NBA Finals and the buzz they were counting on just won't be there. It's very possible that conditions over the next couple months can change that lead to greater compromise. But there's simply no reason for either side to be close now.

Billy Hunter can say he's "99 percent sure" that there will be a lockout. But I suspect Hunter had the same math teacher as both Michael Jordan and Brett Favre, who both said they were "99.9 percent" sure they wouldn't comeback and of course did.

What Hunter did on Monday is an age old tactic. He was using the media to perhaps pressure to loosen up talks. (We'll give him extra points for saying it after he did some charity work.) He's hardly alone. In February of this year, more than a year before a lockout could take place, NFL union chief DeMaurice Smith told the media he was putting the chance of a lockout at a 14 on a scale of 1 to 10.

But these statements are empty without having any consequences for being wrong. Would Billy Hunter and DeMaurice Smith make the same statements if they were told that 99 percent of their salary would be forfeited if they were wrong? No chance.

So to Billy Hunter and DeMaurice Smith, and to the media and the fans who hang on their every word, here's a negotiating reality that should now set in. The sides will only consider coming to an agreement when they are pushed by the constraints of time. How time affects one group versus another is unique to each negotiation. But what I can say is that time will not be a factor in either negotiation in the coming days and even months. There's just too much of it. It's why almost no substantive negotiations in any negotiation back to ancient times don't happen until one of the sides truly pays attention to the sound of the clock ticking.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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