David Stern

Why the NBA's David Stern loses either way

November 22, 2011: 10:58 AM ET

NBA commissioner David Stern has has made several classic negotiation mistakes during discussions with the players association.

By Shelley DuBois, writer-reporter

david_stern_nba

David Stern

FORTUNE -- When a bunch of millionaires get together to complain about what seems like marginal shifts in income, no one looks pretty. This month's case in point: the latest scuffle between the NBA's players association and the teams' owners.

The negotiations have actually been rumbling for about two-and-a-half years. Owners have been trying to figure out how to make their teams more profitable -- they say some are losing money. The two sides have ping-ponged over how to split revenue and other financial details. Last Monday, the players, represented by their lawyers, refused to accept an agreement put forth by NBA Commissioner David Stern, who represents the league's team owners. Among other sticking points, the two sides disagreed about how to allocate players' pay. Owners want tougher rules on salary caps; players, of course, don't.

The roadblock has sparked both players and owners to take legal action that could ensnare the NBA in litigation and sink the 2011-2012 season. The players already missed their first paycheck last week, and they will keep losing money with every missed match. The owners lose money on lost games too, but many want to hold out for an agreement that will better protect the profitability of their franchises.

Even though there are plenty of angry wealthy people involved, one person stands out as the poster child for the lockout. For this one, says University of Minnesota sports management professor Stephen Ross, "The fall guy is going to end up being David Stern." More

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