Stern won't allow NBA to tumble into strike trap

October 11, 1994|By PHIL JACKMAN

As soon as labor strife enters the long-thought-to-be-immune world of sports, millions signal for a timeout and redirect their thoughts to the next sport due up on the calendar or (perish forbid) truly important matters.

Men, women and children don't want to hear it, about strikes, about boycotts, about free agency, salary caps, how teams are losing big dough (uncorroborated), how soon a player can enter paradise with his healthy pension. That's everyday-like stuff; in other words, a drag.

The NFL has found its way around problems the past few years after a decade of turmoil, but baseball blunders into the same mistakes every three years and now hockey's proving it's big-time by being suckered into the same quagmire.

The NBA?

Hey, pro hoops isn't worry-free. Fact is, up until about a decade ago it had difficulties nearly a match for anyone's. But then the game has chosen the unique concept of attempting to solve its problems, not compound them: sincere negotiation.

For example, the NBA is due to start up in a couple of weeks, and it has a bunch of things the players and the owners haven't been able to see eye-to-eye on. There has been talk of a lockout because disagreement exists in four so-called "major" areas. Still, chances are very good basketballs will be in the air come opening night.

Why?

Because commissioner David Stern has always been on record insisting that the league is willing to talk about any system that is fair and equitable with regard to any sticking point that might exist.

Think about it. Baseball, with its hired guns like Richard Ravitch and predecessors, has always adopted an "our way or the highway" stance. Look where it has gotten. Now hockey appears to be assuming that being hard-nosed is the way to go.

While Stern is saying things like "we're open to almost any idea or proposal," and allowing there are assorted ways of making a deal, the NHL has its minions running around making unfounded and laughable accusations.

David Poile, long-standing general manager of the Washington Capitals who's still living off a blockbuster trade he made shortly after the Pilgrims landed, said recently that he sensed the associations of the baseball and hockey players might be acting a collusionary manner.

In other words, once the baseball season was no more after mid-August, Donald Fehr, spokesman for the players, called his

opposite num

ber in hockey, Bob Goodenow, and commanded, "go ye and do likewise."

According to Poile, it's a clandestine attempt by these union types to in "some demented fashion bring pro sports to their knees." He added that "it's no coincidence that the tactics of the two associations are so similar."

When faced with the same demands by the owners in the salary cap and revenue-sharing areas, pray tell why wouldn't the reactions of the unions be much the same? Same goes for football and basketball which, out of the goodness of their hearts and to aid their sports, agreed to a cap (with reservations).

Just the hint of collusion on the part of labor brought up by someone on management's side reminds us instantly that it is the owners, specifically the baseball owners, who alone have been not only charged with but found guilty of collusionary tactics. And not once but THREE times.

Sure, the basketball season could start without a collective bargaining agreement, but Stern sees this as no problem. It's happened time and time again in all sports. While baseball wouldn't take one step forward without a deal, the hockey players tried to avoid the lockout existing since Oct. 1 by saying they would not strike at any point during the season or playoffs while negotiations went on.

This is what David Poile refers to as tactics being "so similar" among the hockey and baseball associations? It certainly sounds as if Goodenow & Co. are as interested as the basketball people at arriving at a quick solution.

Similar to Stern, who says "there are no ultimatums, no gauntlets being thrown down here," about the hoop talks, the hockey players point out that they have not set a deadline for an agreement as management has.

If anything, this makes it sound as though the labor side of hockey and the management side of basketball are in collusion, right? Maybe if they talk they can come up with the answer for both sports.

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