Oklahoma vs. Texas, a Letter to Les Miles, and a Hard-To-Get Hunk

What Have We Learned From the NFL?

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson Fisher & Hunter

Avoiding the Lockout and the Red Sox

Before we get to the Week 6 picks, the Sports Guy has a few things he absolutely doesn't want to talk about

If it’s all right with you, I would like to make it through this week’s NFL Picks column without mentioning …

A. The indefensible NBA lockout. You should never miss games (and paychecks) without a really good reason. In 2004-05, hockey had a good reason: They had a blue-collar sport with white-collar costs, leaving them a business model that was unsustainable. The NBA has a totally sustainable business model — it just needs to be tweaked. What’s happening right now isn’t “tweaking.” It’s like fixing up your family room by swinging a wrecking ball through it.

B. Two weeks (and counting) of canceled NBA games. And as we’re finding out, nobody except die-hard NBA junkies care. Everyone else? They’re more than happy to keep watching pro and college football through the holidays, deal with their fantasy teams, gamble on games, eat up the dozens of talking-head shows, read the hundreds of football-related blogs/columns and figure out who’s making the playoffs and BCS Championship Series. But seriously, keep up the “tree falling in the NFL forest” routine and keep losing all your momentum with casual fans after one of the five best seasons in NBA history, Everyone Involved In This Indefensibly Dumb Lockout.

C. The agents, who escaped this debacle relatively unscathed because just about every person covering the NBA counts at least two or three agents among their best sources — sorry, it’s true — and also, it’s easier to vilify the visible lockout characters (David Stern, Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher, etc.) over the ones who helped block any real progress from happening because some of them cared as much about protecting the ceiling of their next 25 years of commissions as they did about preventing their current players from missing paychecks.1

Will the players ever understand that part? Will they ever understand that agents are not — all caps: NOT — always their friends in a situation like this? Or that there’s a real chasm right now between the agendas of the best agents (the ones who rep the LeBrons and Durants and want to keep the ceiling of contracts as high as possible) and the grinders (the ones who want to protect the middle-class guys and keep the midlevel exception intact), and over everything else, that’s why Billy Hunter is acting like he’s being drawn and quartered right now? Or that this chasm, as well as the festering (and more-public-than-they-should-be) issues between Hunter and the agents, have conspired to make Stern’s owners believe, “We just need to cancel some games and their entire side will eventually implode?” A group of extremely bright people seemed to have outsmarted themselves here — by trying to make things better, they made things worse. Again, the players don’t seem to realize this.

D. The players, almost all of them millionaires or multi-multi-multi-millionaires, who had the gall to start a “Let Us Play” social media campaign earlier this week and expected America to feel sorry for them during the recession. We’re supposed to trust their collective judgement after that display of fecal fireworks?2

Hey, players? Go research the 2008 Writers Strike, when the writers overvalued three things: their own worth, the concept of supply and demand and the future of Internet revenue (which was five years away from truly being figured out). If you remember, those writers missed four-plus months of paychecks and allowed Hollywood to reset its entire system so it was more favorable to studios and production companies. That’s where you’re headed. And by the way, you’re taking no accountability whatsoever for all the guys who got overpaid. Nobody on the planet thinks Travis Outlaw should make $35 million over five years, or Rashard Lewis should make $23 million this season. If your sport is handing out those deals, something went horribly wrong. This needs to be fixed. There’s a reason Leo DiCaprio makes 20 times more for a movie than his buddy Kevin Connolly. People pay to see stars. Nobody pays to see role players and middle-class guys.

Of course, the players’ union would never accept this — it’s made up of mostly role players and middle class guys. Those guys want to protect what they have. And what they have is a system that overpays them. Which, by the way, is the biggest reason we’re having a lockout. The owners are fine with paying LeBron $20 million a year; they just don’t want to pay James Posey $7 million a year. They are trying to save themselves from themselves. The players won’t help them. Their attitude is, “Just don’t sign those dumb contracts then.” But the owners have proven — flagrantly and embarrassingly over these past few decades — that they can’t freaking help themselves. They want more protection. They want more checks and balances. And you know what? In this case, they’re right. What the players need to realize is that it’s bad for them to be overpaid. When someone like Josh Childress is mailing in a big deal that he never should have gotten to begin with, it makes fans resent the players and their sport. Do they care? Do they see the big picture here? Doesn’t seem like it. That’s why we need shorter contracts, and that’s why we need more checks and balances to prevent the owners from pulling a Plaxico on themselves. Sometimes it’s not all about “getting the most you can get.” I’d love to hear a veteran player admit that publicly. Just once.3

E. Billy Hunter, the overmatched head of the players union, who showed no urgency whatsoever this spring, acted stubbornly for reasons that were only clear to him, refuses to acknowledge the change in consumer habits (and keeps pretending that the NBA’s business from 2012 to 2022 will look exactly like it did from 2001 to 2011), showed no ability to pull off a give-and-take negotiating session, and basically seemed petrified to think outside the box for eight solid months. We knew in February that we were headed for D-Day. Where was the urgency? Why did everyone seem so blindsided this week when games were finally canceled? And why do I keep hearing from connected/smart/knowledgeable people within the sport that Billy knows he can’t get a better deal than the one the owners offered last week, only he doesn’t want to accept it now because he knows that — if he does — the players union will fire him afterwards for caving, which means he’ll lose his lucrative ($2.5 million per year) contract? If that’s true, that means Billy would rather lose everyone else’s paycheck over his own. I really hope that’s not true. Just know that’s what people are whispering, Billy.4

F. Kevin Garnett, who inexplicably turned into Norma Rae these past few weeks and led the charge to fight the fight and stand strong … without, of course, ever mentioning that his agent was savvy enough to defer a significant amount of money from his last contract extension so that he still has fresh money coming in this season (unlike 95 percent of the players), or that a 50-game regular season would be absolutely perfect for his aching knees, or that losing two months of 2011-12 money might help him with his next contract because he won’t break down during a shortened season (increasing the odds that he’ll get one last lucrative extension next summer).

Should someone who’s earned over $300 million (including endorsements) and has deferred paychecks coming really be telling guys who have made 1/100th as much as him to fight the fight and stand strong and not care about getting paid? And what are Garnett’s credentials, exactly? During one of the single biggest meetings (last week, on Tuesday), Hunter had Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Garnett (combined years spent in college: three) negotiate directly with Stern in some sort of misguided “Look how resolved we are, you’re not gonna intimidate us!” ploy that backfired so badly that one of their teams’ owners was summoned into the meeting specifically to calm his player down and undo some of the damage. (I’ll let you guess the player. It’s not hard.) And this helped the situation … how? And we thought this was going to work … why?

Congratulations, players — you showed solidarity! You showed you wouldn’t back down! You made things worse, and you wasted a day, but dammit, you didn’t back down! Just make sure you tell that to every team employee who gets fired over these next few weeks, as well as to all the restaurant and bar owners near NBA arenas who are taking a massive financial hit through the holidays. I’m sure they will be proud of you.

G. The owners, who wanted to miss two months of games all along and even went as far as investigating this summer how they’d legally go about filling their arenas during nights when they “had” NBA home games in November and December. (The answer: You can’t schedule other events in your arena without violating labor laws. But if you want to schedule a musical act for two nights before a home game, then “play it by ear” and “add” a third night at the last minute — wink, wink — that’s ostensibly legal.) These guys are prepared to reset their system, break the players and reposition themselves for the rest of the decade, when attendance revenue will continue to slide in the HD/Internet/Fun-To-Be-Home Era and small-market teams will continue to suffer without contraction or revenue sharing (neither of which can happen without a more favorable CBA). There was no chance they were playing 82 games this year. It was a charade.

And yes, I’m still waiting for the owners to take some accountability for all the horrific contracts they handed out — especially the ones from the summer of 2010, when they knew a lockout was coming and couldn’t help themselves from shelling out indefensibly dumb deals like they were 30 Charlie Sheens unable to stop themselves from snorting coke off a stripper’s navel because the stripper lay down naked, cut the lines herself and said, “Here.” And then they have the gall to cry poverty? Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh-kay.

(In case you’re wondering, there is no “good” side in this disgrace of a battle. It’s like the end of War Games when the computer realizes that there’s no way to win a nuclear war because everyone will blow up. That’s what we’re watching. Everyone is a loser, everyone should be ashamed. Everyone.)

H. David Stern, the commissioner of a 26-team league with 30 franchises, who can’t seem to understand why they’re not making money. Gee, I wonder, David. That’s a real head-scratcher. Once considered the greatest commish ever,5 Stern could have gotten creative about ways to change the revenue stream, protect the owners, incentivize overachieving players, add a play-in tournament for the 8-seeds, get sponsored jerseys, merge two struggling teams, take advantage of the Chicago market (by adding a second team there) and any other idea that could have prevented us from missing games, and instead, just did the second grade bully routine of “You have too many cookies, I WANT SOME OF YOUR COOKIES!” before finally bending to a reasonable place these past two weeks. But too much damage was done. Now it’s a staring contest and a dick-swinging contest. Nobody wins. Everyone loses.

I have been writing this for three months and I will write it again: The fair and logical compromise if we’re not contracting (and we should) would be a 50/50 BRI split, four-year max deals for contracts, the elimination of sign-and-trades, a reduced midlevel exception (I think it should be chopped in half), some sort of luxury tax to penalize anyone who spends 15 percent more than the cap and one Larry Bird exception per team (so that teams have a built-in advantage to keep their best player). I promise you, that’s where we will end up — there’s no real imagination to it, either. We’re missing games to get there. Possibly an entire season. And it’s playing out that way for a variety of reasons, but mainly because the players can’t accept that owners are terrified about where attendance revenue is going (the whole reason this is happening); owners can’t accept that players simply don’t trust their numbers, intentions or judgment; and both sides waited too long to get serious.

I am profoundly pissed off. In case you couldn’t tell. But you know what? I’m in the minority. Most people are watching football … and will continue to watch football … and will continue to watch football … right through the holidays. When fans don’t ultimately care if your season started two months late, maybe you DO need to break the system and rebuild it. Then again, it’s hard to fathom how a league coming off a 10 Finals rating that has 75 percent of America’s most marketable professional athletes needs to blow things up. What a traveshamockery. Speaking of traveshamockeries …

I. The media-smear campaign of Terry Francona that followed the Red Sox collapse (and played out just like Manny’s smear campaign, Nomar’s smear campaign, Pedro’s smear campaign, Damon’s smear campaign …. ) Here’s the sad thing: We all knew it was coming. That’s just how the current regime works. I wrote about it three years ago in my Manny Being Manipulated piece — these particular owners manipulate the media better than anyone Boston has ever seen. Only in 2011 did the locals finally catch on, and only because the Boston Globe decided to play up Terry Francona’s failed marriage and medicine cabinet in an extended feature about the Red Sox’s collapse … in a story that, of course, didn’t point fingers at Theo Epstein or anyone who ran the Red Sox.

What worries me going forward: I can’t imagine why any marquee free agent would want to sign with this franchise, run it, or manage it when the whole “We will SHANK YOU if this doesn’t work out” message has been clearly established by the owners. Would you want to work for these guys? Only if they grossly overpaid you, right? (Carl Crawford is nodding grimly right now.) I can’t believe I’m hoping the three guys who saved Fenway Park and brought us two titles will sell … but shit, I actually want them to sell at this point. It’s like having your team owned by the Judge, the creepy old guy who sits in the dark in The Natural, only if you multiplied him by three, made him media-savvy and gave him a house organ (in this case, the Boston Globe) to print anything he wants. Enough is enough. Sell. Nobody trusts you any more.

J. Francona, who got handed a free pass for his woeful performance in 2011 because that smear-campaign piece will be the first thing anyone remembers … and that’s a shame, because when you start a season 2-10, finish a season 7-20 and break the records for “Most weight a starting rotation gained during one regular season” and “worst camaraderie on a baseball team that won at least 90 games” along the way, those memories should endure. At least a little. It couldn’t have been a worse way to end things in Boston, although it doesn’t taint 2004 and 2007 in any way (at least for me). I will remember Terry Francona as the guy who managed my team when we did something that — for most of my life — I spent an inordinate amount of time worrying they would never do. So what if it ended badly? Remember Coughlin’s Law? Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end. I’d love to see Francona take Tim McCarver’s job — partly because he’s great on TV, partly because I don’t want to see him manage anywhere else, and partly because that would mean someone took Tim McCarver’s job. Whatever happens, best of luck to the best Red Sox manager of my lifetime.

K. John Lackey.

L. Josh Beckett.

M. Jon Lester.

N. Chicken.

O. Beer.

P. Video games.

Q. Jason Varitek, whose “C” on his jersey apparently stood for “C nothing, do nothing.”

R. Theo Epstein, who finally fled for the Cubs and probably regrets not fleeing six years ago. Right move, right time. He turned a no-win situation into a no-lose situation with the upside of “If I win in Chicago, I become one of the three or four most famous baseball executives ever.” So what if he left behind a Red Sox franchise that’s in shambles and came off like a college coach ditching a program for a better job right as it’s about to get penalized by the NCAA? I wish him the best. Here’s hoping he remembers in Chicago what made him special (finding undervalued guys, avoiding expensive free agents in their 30s and building a quality farm system) over what eventually doomed him (spending money more recklessly than Jerry Bruckheimer).6

S. The irrefutable fact that it’s been fun to have the dysfunctional and semi-incompetent Red Sox back in my life — kind of like seeing your extended family at a wedding for the first time in ages and remembering how crazy everyone is. Hey look, there’s my nutty uncle who thought the world was going to end because of Y2K and built a bomb shelter! And there’s my slutty cousin who agreed to be a surrogate mom, then had the baby and disappeared with it and got arrested! Welcome back, Weird Part of My Life. I hate myself that things feel more normal when the Red Sox are fucked up than when they’re not. What does that say about me?

Again, I don’t want to talk about any of those things and I’m really glad we didn’t.


Bill Simmons is the Editor in Chief of Grantland and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball, now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.

Previously from Bill Simmons:

We Need a Renegade Basketball League
A Running Diary of Game 162
Welcome to Amnesty 2.0 in the NBA
NFL Preview: It’s All About Continuity
Summer of Mailbag V: Passing the Buck
Summer of Mailbag IV: Dawn of the Mailbag
Summer of Mailbag III: Attack of the Mailbag!
The Glorious Return of the Mailbag
Summer of Mailbag: The Revenge

To submit questions for next week’s mailbag, click here; to comment on this story through Facebook, click here.

Filed Under: Bill Simmons, NFL, People, Simmons, Sports

Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

Archive @ BillSimmons