NBA Pre-conditions – Tactical Magic or Tactical Disaster?

There are potential dangers when drawing a line in the sand during a public negotiation.  How, and if, you respond when someone crosses that line can have a major impact on what you’ve negotiated when it’s all said and done.  In addition, the awareness that the public is watching how you defend your line becomes part of the decision-making process.  Better to keep your boundaries more private and avoid further complicating an already complicated negotiation.

Both the NBPA and the NBA have publicly drawn some lines.  The players have stated that they won’t be pushed into making a bad deal and are ready to miss games if necessary.  The Commissioner has said that a deal must be finished by Monday or regular season games will be cancelled.  While it was important for both sides to know what the other was thinking, making those statements publicly has made negotiations more difficult.

The Roman General Scipio Africanus said “Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across” (although he probably said it in Latin) and it’s been written by a number of well-respected NBA writers that it’s important that both sides be able to claim victory at the end of the negotiations.  In particular, since the players have already given up so much by dropping the BRI split from 57-43 to 53-47 (roughly a $160M concession), it’s important that the NBA avoid making it seem like they are crushing the NBPA beneath their boot. 

Assuming the NBA is aware of all this, their ultimatum to the NBPA that they must agree to the 50-50 split of the BRI or there would be no Monday meeting was either a smart tactical maneuver or a screw-up of Biblical proportions.  Not only does it violate both perception issues mentioned above, it would require the NBPA to give up $120M AND their biggest bargaining chip just to get the NBA to come back to the conference table.  And making the demand public eliminates that golden bridge that Scipio spoke about.

If you were the players and you had already given up $160M and were probably going to have to give up as much as another $120M, wouldn’t you want to get a little something in return for that $120M?  Perhaps a gift bag from the NBA Store or a bathrobe from the Waldorf Astoria where some of the negotiations have taken place?  Perhaps some concession from the owners regarding the mid-level exception?  Perhaps the guarantee that if they give up that $120M, the Commissioner won’t cost them any more money by cancelling games?  I know that I’d want something for my $120M and my guess is that you would, too.

Sun Tzu, the John Wooden of war, said “Do not repeat the tactics that have gained you one victory…”.  ESPN’s Ric Bucher described what the NBA did to end the last lockout.  Not only did those tactics border on disgraceful, they can’t happen in the current world of Twitter, YouTube, etc.  It’s harder to get away with BS in the bright light of the Internet day.

But it seems like the NBA is trying to repeat those tactics anyway.  My last article spoke of the dangers of their negotiating tactics and this latest demand is an amplified version of the same.  It’s time to put the hammer back in the toolbox and use tactics that are going to get this deal done.

(See the esteemed Chris Sheridan’s article “…It Isn’t Monday Yet” for a take that would mean that the pre-conditions were tactical magic.  It’s an interesting angle and definitely worth a read.)

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