"Let's get the two committees in and see if they can either have a season or not have a season. That's what's at risk this weekend."
-- David Stern, September 28, 2011
Not sure anything else that has been said about this lockout holds a candle to this quote in terms of tough talk.
Until this moment, Stern has played some combination of dumb or coy to any calendar questions. "I don't know!" he said Tuesday, asked at what point the season would be in jeopardy. "I haven't looked at my calendar recently."
It strained credibility when Stern said it, and not 24 hours later, it's clear he has these dates crystal clear. Now this weekend (long predictable as the deadline for a handshake deal) is not just when the open of the season starts to slip.
It's when we learn if there will be a season at all.
So, why would Stern, who has been measured in his public rhetoric, make this threat now?
Stern has assessed it's deal time. In other words, he likes his negotiating position now and is genuinely happy to have everything come to a head immediately. People who do lots of deals talk a lot about the importance of recognizing deal time when it comes around. What better card to play to sharpen everyone's focus this weekend?
Stern wants to eliminate the possibility of talks dragging on through the autumn. It's interesting to speculate as to why. Maybe he doesn't want fans and the media to demonize the players he's counting on to carry his league. Maybe he's scared of what could happen to the talks -- he has intimated in the past that if it gets ugly, it could get really ugly, which could mean the decertification of the union, litigation galore and who knows what else. An on-time start to the season does carry significant benefits to many owners and the league, not to mention fans. For moneymaking teams, the benefits are obvious. Some other teams have short championship windows. And then there are all those corporate sponsorship and advertising revenues that might find new homes in a lockout.
It's intended to put the utmost pressure on union chief Billy Hunter. Hunter is not only facing withering fire from the NBA's tough negotiating tactics, but also from that posse of five agitating agents, who may or may not have the ability to destabilize Hunter's position at the head of the union. If emotions get high, perhaps so does the pressure on Hunter to calm things down by making his best offer, and hopefully a deal.
He is simply being insincere. In reality, of course, Stern maintains an ironclad right to back off this whenever he wants. Saying things he later relents on would not be unprecedented. For two small examples from this week, see his comments above about the calendar, and this: On Tuesday, for some reason, Stern implied talks would not stop for Thursday's religious holiday, Rosh Hashanah. Not 24 hours later we learn the talks are indeed paused for the holiday. Which was predictable, and an odd thing to deny. But deny it he did.