Isiah Thomas: Players and Owners Need to Put the Game Ahead of Personal Interests

October 24, 2011 – 9:01 am by Eric Schmoldt

Isiah Thomas has been a part of lockouts. He’s also held numerous roles, both off the court and on, when it comes to the NBA. So the Florida International coach knows a bit about what he’s talking about when he says the two sides in the NBA lockout need to take a look back at history and understand just what the player-owner relationship has been like over the years.

In his eyes, the sticking point isn’t exactly about money, but about the ideologies and philosophies of how it should be divided. And to that point, Thomas tells the two sides to set their personal interests aside and get something done for the good of the game.

Isiah Thomas joined The Fan 590 in Toronto with Eric Smith and Paul Jones to discuss what he would tell the two negotiating parties, the relationship between the players and the owners, where the two sides need to compromise and a recent pickup game that was held down in his gym at Florida International University.

If you could walk into the negotiations, what would you say to get basketball back?:

“You would definitely have to have some conversation that talks about the game and the sanctity of the game. I think you would probably need to do some historical analysis in terms of bringing the players and the owners to the point of where we are today from a historical standpoint and how the game has grown. The game has grown through a unique partnership from the players and the owners unlike any other league has ever enjoyed. Because of that unique partnership of trust, argument, fight, disagreement and everything else … in time, we’ve always put the game ahead of our own personal interests. Right now it seems the game is being held hostage by the personal interests of the owners and the players.”

What makes that relationship of players and owners in the NBA so much more unique than that of other sports?:

“Back in 1984, we set about the challenge of realizing we were in the game together. … Once we started working together as players and owners and we formed a unique partnership from a marketing standpoint, from a public relations standpoint, from a personal appearances standpoint, all of those things went into, how do we grow the game? How do we make the game better? Consequently, we made money, collectively, together, from those things, and that needs to be brought back to the forefront.”

Is there one side of the argument that needs to give in more than the other? Or do both need to just compromise certain things?:

“The key word that will always be thrown around from the owners’ standpoint is certainty. In the last lockout, the owners wanted certainty in terms of guaranteed profits and certainty in any business very rarely happens. Certainty in terms of guaranteed profits very rarely happens when you’re taking this risk. From the players’ perspective, there’s no such thing as unlimited cash and unlimited play. So at somewhere in the middle, those to ideologies and philosophies have to meet. That’s when you can start talking about coming to some kind of conclusion. …What I’m hearing now is the system and the ideologies and the philosophies that you divide the money under, those are kind of the deal-breakers right now.”

There was a star-studded pickup game down there at FIU a couple weeks ago, what was that like?:

“Having all those guys here at FIU, all those stars, it was almost like when you’re playing NBA2K, playing the video game, and they walk out of the video game. If you imagine LeBron James in the video game and all of the sudden he steps out of the game and he’s standing in your gym or in your living room. … It was great. The fans enjoyed it, the players had a great time and I can just tell you that, from talking to the players, they do love the game, they do love playing the game for the fans. I think they hate the situation that they find themselves in, not being able to play or demonstrate or display the talents that they, uniquely, all have. So there is some frustration, there is some anticipation.”

Listen to Isiah Thomas on The Fan 590 in Toronto here

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