The Celtics beagle opens his metaphorical mouth once more Billy Hunter is lining up a Summer Sequel

Billy Hunter has once again made me wonder why in the name of Naismith he's still associated in any way with the NBA.  A couple of days ago, when speaking of the initial proposal from NBA owners for the new contract after the 2004-05 season, said, "If the owners are not inclined to retreat from their current proposal, there's a high probability there can be another lockout."

For some unknown reason, Hunter has been the longtime director of the NBA Player's Union.  He knows firsthand what a lockout is like, because his mind-numbing incompetence collided with a childlike stubborness to bring about the LAST lockout. 

In July of 1998--six years ago almost to the week--the NBA had it'sfirst work stoppage in history, lasting for 191 days.  That's over 6 1/2 months.  The League was decimated, the season was shortened to 50 games, the All-Star Game cancelled, and the fans got the shaft as Hunter held center stage for all aspects of posturing that ended with him hogging the limelight at a marathon session that resolved the differences despite his ineptitude.   He didn't like the proposal at the end, but the Union--wisely--ignored him and took the deal.  Hunter didn't want to remind people that he was largely responsible for the problem in the first place, so he quickly sidled up to David Stern to proclaim a settlement on television.

That must have steamed him.  Stern had essentially bullied the NBA into doing what he wanted.  Now, six years later, Hunter is trying to get even with Stern.  He wants a rematch, to prove he can play tough, too.   But this is a disaster waiting to happen.  Stern quite rightly characterized the initial proposal as  something "done with expectation there could be some changes--but that's where negotiations come in.  And those negotiations are where deals get done, not by hurling threats in the newspapers."

In other words, Billy, siddown and shut up.  We know you and Stern personally disagree on an age limit for the NBA.  We know the player's agents freak out at the thought of a developmental league where their clients might be paid a tiny amount less than normal for a month or so, and that hurts their commission.  We know you want your own talk show, based on how often you're parked in front of an open mike.

But this needless threat of a lockout helps no one.  Players don't want to be trashed for being "spoiled", the owners don't want to be trashed for being "cheap", and the fans don't want to sit through another six months of thumb-twiddling while you and Stern think up new and nastier things to say to one another.  Is Billy Hunter the only person not on Shaquille O'Neal's payroll who thinks Shaq should be the next president of the Player's Union?  Perhaps he's thinking of the media exposure with Shaq's prediliction to say whatever's on his mind, regardless of appropriateness.  It's not like Michael Curry, the current president, generates a lot of press attention.

I understand--and generally agree with--the need for a solid player's union.  There should be checks and balances between owners and players to ensure everyone is fairly dealt with.  But I'm well and truly tired of Hunter using his bully pulpit to go after Stern like a cheap hood howling on a streetcorner.

It would be easier for more people to realize how much damage Hunter can do--and has done--if it weren't that King David, er, David Stern, was more than willing to rise to the bait.  Stern knew that Hunter would blow his stack when the initial proposal came in, and this allows Stern to present himself as the Voice of Reason.  Phooey, and flummery!  Stern wants an age limit.  He's had it up to here with shaking the hands of first round draft choices who aren't old enough to cross the street without an adult.  This proposal is a smokescreen to get the players riled about the proposed four-year-limit on contracts, and the changes in the tax threshold.  He'll gladly trade a few dollars to push his developmental league and the age limit.  Stern knows he holds the clout club--the lockout.  He managed to chain the doors six years ago and make the players look bad in the process.  He's smart--and ruthless--enough to do it again. 

The smart thing would have been to look at the proposal and joke that there's obviously a long way to go--then work out a counter proposal behind closed doors.  Of course, if they were THAT smart, they'd have bounced Billy Hunter to the curb a long time ago.

I personally think the Union should counter the League's financial proposal with a plan to use part of the tax money to increase funding for health benefits for retired NBA players.  We're talking guys who often retire in their 30's, with bodies worn out from the NBA seasons.   Many of the older players didn't receive as thorough an education as their degrees might indicate--a shameful situation still far too prevalent today.  They aren't prepared to do anything but play basketball, and relatively few of them make the jump to the coach's bench or the broadcast booth.  By donating a miniscule amount from salaries running well into the millions, they can legitimately make an emotional appeal to the owners to think about the people who made them all multimillionaires--the guys who played for so little money, they often worked other jobs just to keep financially solvent.

But concern for others has never been Hunter's strong suit.  For all his autocratic ways, Stern at least can reasonably claim he's done good things for the league.  Hunter needs to step down before he makes the history books again--as the only director of the NBA Player's Union to oversee TWO lockouts, instead of one.  Billy--they don't hang banners for lockouts, ok?

The fans are just now beginning to feel good about the NBA again.  Last time, it took Michael Jordan to save the league.  This time, they'd have to hustle nearly every NBA legend out of retirement to get people back.  Don't forget, the fans ultimately can simply choose to do something else.  Don't go there, guys.  It'll hurt.