Raja Bell: “It’s not us on strike. It’s the owners telling us they won’t let us play. We really do want to play.”October 21, 2011 – 11:00 am by Steven Cuce
There will always be two sides to every story. After three days of mediation, labor talks between the NBA players and owners have reached yet again another impasse. Currently, there are no meeting schedule for further negotiations. It appears that David Stern’s proclamation about the season being lost until at least the holiday season or even completely are a reality indeed.
Bryant Gumbel lit a firework off earlier this week by comparing David Stern’s lack of an effort to end this lockout to a “plantation overseer.” To say the players and owners have reached a boiling point in these negotiations would be extremely underselling the current state of the league right now. To be quite honest the season looks lost at this point. Raja Bell would like to tell all the die-hard NBA fans the truth about the lockout.
Raja Bell joined the 790 the Ticket in Miami on The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz to discuss disagreeing with Bryant Gumbel’s comments on David Stern, the most exasperating thing about the NBA lockout, an example of what is frustrating the players with the owners wanting more in the negotiations, the NBA fans point of view during the NBA lockout, NBA fans not exactly understanding how the players are getting ripped off in the negotiations with the owners, the biggest misconception that he wants cleared up for the fans from the players perspective during the lockout, the most contentious moment of the negotiations and not being mad at David Stern. (Editor’s note: This interview took place before the talks between the owners and the players broke off.)
Your thoughts on Bryant Gumbel’s comments on David Stern being a “plantation overseer?”
“[Laughs a few times] Some of what he says in that interview or on his show I think is accurate. I don’t mean the racial part of what he said. I mean [NBA] commissioner Stern in my personal opinion…I feel like he’s a bit in the way of us making progress here. I feel like he might be in his last few years as commissioner and he is looking to make his legacy on what kind of deal he get can get these owners this time around. I feel strongly about that. I feel like he has been one of the biggest problems in this whole lockout. It’s unfortunate we have not been able to get past that, but as far the racial part of what he said; I don’t necessarily touch on that. I don’t know what David Stern’s motives are. I don’t know how he views us as players. I do think he rules the NBA with an ‘iron fist,’ and it is his way or the highway. I don’t necessarily agree with that philosophy, but the rest of it…I don’t know. I don’t know where Bryant is coming from. I don’t know what he was thinking at the time. I am surely not on the same page as him with some of that.”
What is the most exasperating thing about the NBA lockout with this back and fourth?
“I feel like first and foremost there is a deal to be made. I feel like if we could somehow come to a middle ground…I feel like there is a deal to be made. I know this always comes across wrong to a fan, but I feel like us as a union we’ve made concessions. We’ve tried to get to a position where we felt like the owners would meet us and it seems like every inch we give up they ask for another one. For me that has been the most exasperating part of it.”
Give me an example of how the line keeps moving there between the players frustrations and the owners wanting more?
“I think initially let’s say we are making 57% of BRI [Basketball Related Income]…let’s say off the top. That is what was under the current or past collective bargaining agreement that just expired. We were willing to come down and we came down incrementally to let’s say 53%. That wasn’t enough and then it became you guys take 49% and the numbers just keep moving and if you are talking about let’s say middle level exception…Right now it is $5.8 [million]. If we come down to let’s say $5 million now the owners want it to be $3 million. The numbers are so low. It’s like any bargaining. If you shoot so low you know you can’t get the deal done. I feel like that is their target to shoot just below the bar, so it looks they are negotiating and in fact there is not a real attempt to negotiate.”
You understand why the fans are saying just take your 50% of revenue and shut up and go play basketball?
“No to a certain degree I do. I do understand a fans perspective on that, but at the end of the day like let’s use Shell Oil as a corporation. Shell Oil – whoever runs that company – makes billions and billions of dollars right, but without the oil they make nothing. The oil is the product they are selling and the owners are selling us as the product and without that product there is nothing. You understand where we are coming from when we say 50-50 [split of revenue] isn’t exactly 50-50, when you take your operating costs off the top?”
I think that is what loses the fans in this labor discussion. The fans don’t understand why the players will not take a 50-50 split of the revenue and not even realize that the players are going to get ripped off?
“I understand that and maybe I should have have prefaced what I was going to say about that. 50-50 is not an accurate depiction of what it breaks down to be once an owners has recouped all of his operating costs. You have to understand these owners are crafty. They are building in operating costs that they are paying to themselves. I mean some of these guys own their own arenas and they are paying rents in essence to themselves as they own other corporations and they are calling it a operating cost? When you are doing that over 82 or 100 games and then you are saying okay now I want to split whatever is left with 50-50… it’s not 50-50.”
What’s the biggest misconception that you would want cleared up so the fans would take your side?
“Unfortunately I don’t know if there is anything that can be said at this point. I think the NBA has done an awesome job and I have to commend them on this of spinning this in their favor as far as media goes. I think most people who listen to ESPN and listen to TNT and what not…they get what the NBA wants them to get. I always go back to the essence and the basics of it. It is a lockout not a strike. We were in favor of extending the current collective bargaining agreement. Now we understood that the owners didn’t necessarily want that and we wanted to make concessions and try to make our league healthy, but it’s not us on strike. It’s the owners telling us they won’t let us play. On top of that the fans need to understand that we really do want to play. These celebrities games that have gone on this summer have been in an effort to let the fan who necessarily doesn’t get a chance to go to NBA basketball games because the prices may be too high for them. It’s a chance to come out and see people. We are going to be going to different countries to do different games. We are making an effort to keep the game out there and to keep fans involved as best as we can because that is the only way we can do it right now.”
What is the most contentious moment that you have felt or seen during these negotiations?
“I think when the commissioner came on TV and basically threatened to cancel games on us if we didn’t get our stuff together as a union and agree to one of these deals. I feel like that was the low point for our league as far as the negotiations went this time around.”
You are mad at David Stern huh?
“I am not. I am mad at the NBA machine right now because I think there is a deal to be made. I don’t mean to make it sound like I am just mad at David Stern. I am mad at all of us because I think we all play a hand in not getting a deal done. I think if it wasn’t such a personal thing in my mind. I feel like it is more personal than business at times with him [David Stern] and that’s just…I can’t help, but feel that way. I could be wrong.”