In the last week we’ve heard nonstop about the NFL labor issues as well as the government shutdown in Washington DC. One thing that has gone largely unnoticed is a filing by the National Basketball Referee’s Association against the NBA for allegedly engaging in “unfair labor practices” with the National Labor Relations Board. So, what does this mean? It means at this point David Stern would probably rather be Daniel Stern, star of the Home Alone movie series.
Really this is nothing new as far as contentious relations between the NBA and its referee’s. Remember two years ago just before the start of the 2009-10 season until an 11th hour deal was reached, the referees were prepared to sit out the entire season until the NBA renegotiated a deal to keep them happy temporarily. The replacement referees were roundly condemned for their performance by NBA players and coaches to the point where the NBA couldn’t afford to not have the regular staff so a deal was hammered out. What that disagreement boiled down to was money; the refs wanted more, and the NBA wanted to cut down the referee budget via cuts in travel expenses, pension payouts and health benefits as well as overall salary.
So what’s different this time? The NBRA is alleging that the NBA has refused to negotiate several “non-economic issues” that the league refuses to negotiate like weight and fitness restrictions, travel restrictions and basic anti-discrimination points based on age or gender. But other than that the rest of it almost sounds like a soon to be divorced couple arguing about who gets the “His” and “Hers” bathroom towel sets. During a meeting on January 24th the NBRA wanted to add additional language pertaining to some other concerns within the collective bargaining agreement. But when they tried, a “league negotiator” later identified as David Stern got mad and made an obscene comment about how adding that to the CBA would affect the proceedings negatively. Stern then went on to ask the NBRA representatives strike his comment from the record and when they disagreed, Stern left the room and that day’s proceedings.
Less than a month later on February 19th while delivering a speech to the players on All Star Weekend, Stern made a cryptic statement about his knowledge of “where the bodies are buried”, that fellow Hoopsvibe columnist J.N. explored further here.
I think the reason the suit by the NBRA matters is because as we head down the regular season stretch run into the playoffs, it’s just another issue the NBA and David Stern will have to face during the offseason. Right now it’s pretty easy to gloss over but June 30th, the day the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players and the NBA is set to expire, means the beginning of a lockout isn’t far away.
Put simply, Stern has a lot on his plate. He puts on the “Happy Face” every time you see him during public appearances, but the comments and behavior attributed to him are anything but “happy” and speak to the underlying stress and uncertainty of even having a 2011-12 season. In addition to his claims the NBA is losing several hundred million dollars this year (a claim disputed by player rep Billy Hunter) he’s facing an offseason work stoppage that will be at least along the lines of what the NFL is dealing with right now. And from the outside looking in, it sure seems like the only people happy with David Stern are the owners and at the very least, Stern appears to be stressed out and for several good reasons.