NBA Flunks Negotiating

NBA owner rep, David Stern, is getting blamed more and more for the failed NBA negotiations.

One of the more interesting parts of attempting to teach my son Noah the art of business concerns negotiating. It’s a topic of enduring interest because there is seldom a day when I don’t negotiate with somebody−a client, an employee, or a partner.

Lately, I’ve been reading the accounts of the messy negotiations between David Stern, who represents the NBA owners, and Billy Hunter, who speaks for the players union. From an outsider’s perspective it appears to be a botch for both sides, with everybody involved losing big−except the lawyers.

What I try to teach Noah and continually relearn myself is a lesson I learned from my father and uncle. “Always let the other person feel that they’ve won, because the relationship is more important than one deal.”

The reality is that often there is only one deal to be made with a particular client, but that really isn’t the point. You never really know when you will meet up again, but each deal helps establish your reputation in the wider world, and teaches you lessons.

As I talk to machining firms these days I am regularly hearing that big company buyers are now negotiating with the mindset that good suppliers are scarce assets, not interchangeable widget makers. The balance of power in the supply chain world has changed over the last year and the shrewd buyers of machined parts have recognized it.

One of the most important aspects of a negotiation is how time plays into it. We are watching that play out dramatically right now in the NBA talks because players have now missed their first big paycheck of the season, agents are missing out on rookie signings, and the owners are staring at a cancellation of the entire season.

When I negotiate a deal I always try to ascertain the time requirements of my potential buyer and withhold my own needs from him. By talking to a client frequently, not only can I often discover his time restraints but I can also build a mutual investment in working out a deal. One of the drawbacks of email negotiating is that it removes that feeling of personal investment in a deal and tends to make it seem like it’s all about the money.

From my experience, money is just one factor in most negotiations, and often not the most important one. In my reading about what’s going on now with the NBA, a deal was within reach, until the owners pushed the players into a corner on peripheral issues like random off season drug testing, which energized a weak, disorganized, even apathetic group of players into an angry opponent. David Stern evidently misjudged how far he could push. It’s okay to leave money on the table, my Dad told me and I say to Noah. “Does the deal work for us?” is question number one. But the important corollary is, “Can the other person feel good about it, too?”

The great negotiating mavens such as Herb Cohen argue that you should plan your moves ahead and know your own bottom line. I adhere to this idea in theory, but I believe you also need to be creative and improvise because there are crucial moments in a negotiation that you can’t afford to miss. This is when the active listener can pick up on cues about the time needs of the opposing party to conclude a deal. If the big moment is missed the deal that was makeable can go away.

I often go home and tell my wife that I am frustrated about deals that keep sliding away. She’ll say that it probably doesn’t have anything to do with you. Be patient, it will come.


Sometimes it does.

Question: Do you care if the NBA season is canceled?

Question 2: If you could choose between deer hunting and going to an NBA playoff game which would you pick?

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24 thoughts on “NBA Flunks Negotiating

  1. Calvin Sams

    Cancel the season. Let the owners and players sit out the winter and learn a lesson. Your game cost to much!

    No, I have no need to attend any game where the players are paid way to much in comparision to the average american. Play off game or deer hunting? Deer hunting has the potential of feed me for the winter. Play off game has the potential to cost me a lot of money.
    Deer Hunting wins every time!!

  2. Dave Troutman

    1. Are we kidding the public??? Aren’t the players employees????
    2. In a 5 year life, their average yearly income is still ridiculous if you spread it over 25 years.
    3. Who can afford to go to the games??? Not kids.
    4. I suggest they start-over

  3. Jim

    Give me a college game to watch instead, I am not gonna miss the NBA at all.

    A walk in the woods would be a better way to spend the day off, a playoff game would be of no interest to me at all!

  4. Jeff

    Cancel the NBA permenantly…they are over paid babies anyway.

    I would go deer hunting over any professional sporting event play off or regular season…mother nature and peace n’ quiet are far better ways to spend time and money then watching over paid men play a sport.

  5. Randy Endorf

    #1 I will care after the super bowl is over, normally when I pay attention to NBA
    #2 NBA playoff game, deer are often and regularly, inadvertently, hunted by vehicles on our roads

  6. Ed Thorpe

    NBA is a business, not recreation. Sometimes the business is not so good and/or poorly managed – so be it.

    Deer hunting wins every time, absolutely!

  7. Todd Miller

    I care that the NBA season may be cancelled only because there are many die-hard NBA fans, and countless people in the hospitality industry who depend on the games for their income. I was extremely disappointed when the major league baseball season was interrupted in 1981 and cancelled for the last two months of 1994, with no playoffs and World Series, so I empathize with the pain that NBA fans are feeling. As for hunting and going to an NBA playoff game, I don’t hunt, so the game it is by default.

  8. Bruce Renwick

    #1. The NBA used to be a great team sport to watch; now it seems it is only about individual “Super-Stars” and nothing else. I’m not sure of the salaries of many players; the Super-Stars are multimillionaires that don’t even always put out a good product. What do they really need from the team owners? I don’t really know because I don’t really care, the sport is not worth watching any longer to me.

    #2. I would still have to say any big sporting event (meaning play-off or championship game) is worthy to go see just for the excitement. If I could get free tickets for an NBA playoff event I would certainly go to it, however in the state it is in now if it never came back again I would not miss it.

  9. Waggy

    1. I’m hoping the season is cancelled and some humility gained on both sides as a result.
    2. I do not hunt but would much rather spend a day in the field than courtside if forced to choose.

  10. Dorian Popescu

    In the negotiation between millionaires (players) vs. billionaires (owners) I tend to side with the owners. My reason is that each of the owners at least employs hundreds to facilitate the games.
    1) I happen to enjoy basketball so I’d prefer that the NBA season will not cancel. If it is, more time for college bball. The cancelation will bring a cold shower on egos for both sides.
    2) Depends on the playoffs game…and hunting location/partners…

  11. Noah Graff

    I can’t believe every single comment is anti-NBA or at least apathetic to the NBA.

    Yes, these players make a ridiculous amount of money. Some are thuggy. But they also get paid based on the value they create for millions.

    And the question isn’t about whether the players deserve the money. The question is about if you will miss the NBA. Damn right I will miss the NBA. My Bulls are up and coming fast! Derick Rose is beautiful to watch. These athletes do amazing things that make your draw drop. College is ok, but the kids lack the talent and the spectacular moves the NBA players can do.

    Watching games is a pleasure for me. And aside from my beloved Cubs the Bulls are my team. And then reading about the Bulls in the sports section is perhaps just as fun or more than watching.

    Like the league or the players or not, we are missing out on fun.

    It sucks.

    Deer hunting sounds interesting to try. Might be fun. But I’m not sure how it would feel to kill.

  12. Bob Long

    Neolithic Bohemian Artifacts
    Who cares if they ever play again? hard to connect with individuals you have absolutely nothing in common with!
    Deer hunting everytime!

  13. Lloyd Graff

    I absolutely miss the NBA already. Greatest players on the planet. Give me my LeBron fix. Kobey, can I bear the winter without you. I am a basketballaholic, hoops addict, a round ball rowdy. I still keep a all by my recliner so I can feel the pimpled leather while I watch the tube. My dream was to shoot and make 65 free throws when I hit 65. Bad eyes got in the way. OK many of the guys are ignorant thugs but, man can they hoop. Stern give me my NBA back.

    Deer hunting. Never done it. With my eyes I’d probably shoot a gopher. Why do so many people love it so much. This is not a slam, just an innocent question from a pansy .

  14. Jim S

    I’ve never quite understood how killing a deer or other animal with a high powered rifle or shotgun generates such a feeling of accomplishment, unless you really like the meat that comes from that animal. Regardless, I’d prefer to buy it from the local butcher and then go watch and NBA game in a nice warm arena with an ice cold beer.

  15. Gary Mosakowski

    I cannot believe no one has commented yet on your question Lloyd. In my opinion I think you would have to experience it to appreciate it. For me it was a tradition growing up in my family to go deer hunting every year. To this day my family still keeps this tradition alive. I have hunted with my father and his friends as well as my friends for the past thirty five years and would not miss it for the world. The frendship and comradery is the best part in my opinion. Another aspect early on was we hunted to feed the family we did not have all that much growing up and between the garden and hunting we were able to sustain our existance. Early on it was more about the harvest because we needed the food. As I got older and had my own family it was the same early on it was about the harvest I didn’t make that much money and had to feed my family. Now as time went on I have a decent job and could afford not to have to do it but again I would not miss it for the world. These days it doesn’t matter if I get one or not as long as I get the time to be in the outdoors with my family and friends.

  16. john Otto

    I grew up on Long Island so I missed out on the Deer Hunting phenomena. We moved to Georgia and my wife didn’t like the concept of deer hunting i.e. “how can you kill a defenseless animal”, to which I answered “would you rather they introduce themselves to your windshield one night?”. Which brings me to my point.

    I could become a hunter with a gun, orange clothes, hat gloves, the works, for what it would cost for a playoff game. So the answer is hunting.

  17. Kevin

    Lawyers having it their way again,as always,

    The stupidity of the nba to let lawyers control their destiny..
    Failure ……

    Yes lawyers will win….lawyers will..alwayssssssssssss

    Confuse the issues
    Comp[licate the issues
    Overcharge the issues
    Manufacture 3rd party issues that are unneccasry..
    Same as divorce warfare ……just bigger numbers
    My ex got 2,000,000 plus 12,000 per month chills support..and I was still the bad guy..

    It took serious pro se work to get my life restarted, the lawyers useless…all of them..i fiired them……….

    If both nba sides fired their attorneys today, the problems would be fixed and negotiated by both sides within one week..

    Called fire your attorney and start winning,,,works for me every time??

  18. Mark N

    NBA..The only people that lose out on a cancelled season are the young players that are waiting for their one big break and the small business owners/vendors. As for the rest go back to work. Really, I mean it no work no pay.
    Deer hunting all the way. It does mean many different things to some many different people. Have a safe and enjoyable season to all that participate.
    Lloyd try to find a couple of hunters that truely involve themselves in the sport and talk to them. They will say some of the things that Gary has mentioned and probably more.

  19. Ray Escandon

    I agree with Jim’s comments:

    “I’ve never quite understood how killing a deer or other animal with a high powered rifle or shotgun generates such a feeling of accomplishment, unless you really like the meat that comes from that animal.”

    Killing deers makes me think of the “Bambi”, and even “Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer”. Seriously, who would want to kill these beautiful creatures?
    In fact, I don’t like eating deer meat, I tried it, but never quite developed a taste for it. Getting together with friends for a sports competition and a few cold brews wins, in my books anyway.

    But the whole point of Lloyd’s article is the art of negotiation and the lessons learned by the example of the present NBA negotiations between players and owners.
    I believe “The Show Must Go On”. Regarding negotiating for a settlement with the players and owners: Go for it guys don’t cancel the season.

    The NBA is an industry, supporting thousands of direct and indirect jobs (players included, and of course lawyers as well), creating opportunities for our youth of our generation, and hopefully future generations.
    My opinion: Players and owners must continue to negotiate and reach a settlement to protect their investment and the NBA season, this year and in the future..

  20. Ray Escandon

    I forgot to post my answers to Lloyd’s questions, and my punch line:
    #1 YES
    #2 NBA playoff game

    The punch line: Did you watch the Video of Ron Artest above? If that is not enough reason to settle the NBA dispute between owners and players, I don’t know what is, I much prefer to watch Ron play basketball. I am certain he will be just as great a dancer as he is a basketball player with due time and for sure, many years of training and practicing, if I was Ron Artest, I will stick with playing basketball.

    How I became a fan of dancing competitions: My daughter Lenaa, a freshman at Pepperdine University has been a dancer since she was about 5 years of age. Although her major at Pepperdine is not in dancing, she auditioned for the “Dance Company” at Pepperdine and gained a spot on the team, she was also chosen to choreograph her own piece, and also selected to be part of a small group of judges choosing other applicants to the team (for the first time ever, a freshman earning that distinction). The first show of the year will be February 10, 11 and 12. Lenaa’s picture will be featured on the cover of the program.
    Anyway, as you can tell: Like you Lloyd, I love bragging about my kids, I am so proud of mine: Lenaa, Jaime and Ray. Call me Narcissistic, but I love my kids.

    If you have the time, watch “Dancing With The Stars” on ABC , it is one of the highest rating shows on TV. Next week (Monday and Tuesday at 7:00 PM Central Time) is the finals of the fall season when the “Champion” will be crowned.
    The show pairs 12 celebrities, (mostly from the entertainment industry, but some sports personalities and even some politicians) with 12 “Super Star” dancers. Who can forget the season when one of the celebrities was Tom “The Hammer” Delay, a disgraced former member of the house of representatives, and my neighbor (perhaps soon to be ex-neighbor), a jury recently found him guilty in a case involving campaign contributions (presently on appeal).
    This season, Ron Artest was one of the contestants and the first to be eliminated.

    The three finalists celebrities this season are:
    Ricky Lake, an actress with her own TV show, who became a sensation playing an overweight singer and dancer on the original Broadway play “Hair Spray”.
    The second finalist: Rob Kardashian, his claim to fame and occupation: Kim’s brother, an unemployed USC graduate who came into the show not knowing where to turn, or even why he was there in the first place. What a turn around, I believe he may have found his calling. Stay tuned: Coming soon to a TV near you: “Rob Kardashian The King of Dance” .
    And finally, my sentimental favorite, (although I doubt he will win because of a foot injury suffered while practicing prior to the semi-finals): J. R. Martinez , a war hero who nearly lost his life while injured at war during a road bomb attack, coming back from the war, he joined the team of “All my children” the daily ABC soap opera as an actor. What a story of this man, and what a great positive attitude and outlook of life, a real inspiration.


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