The NBA players' union and league officials met Tuesday in a last-gasp attempt to save the upcoming season as Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant tried to finalize his contingency plan of playing in Italy if the lockout continues. Sadly, his maneuvering won't help solve the labor situation, but it definitely could exacerbate the problem.
Roughly 60 players are going abroad to play, but the only big name thus far is New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams, who's headed to Turkey. Bryant's defection would be a blow to the players' union and the 400 or so players who don't have international options. They'll be left at home, missing paychecks, while Bryant, Williams and the others hoop it up in Europe and elsewhere.
The labor negotiations have reached the breaking point, with the dispute already wiping out training camp and the entire preseason schedule. Next on the chopping block are the first two weeks of the regular-season games, which will be lost if a deal isn't reached by Oct. 10.
Tension between the players and the league increased Friday when NBA Commissioner David Stern wagged a finger at Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, who shouted him down in response. Meanwhile, union President Derek Fisher and Executive Director Billy Hunter are trying to stave off a virtual coup attempt led by several powerful agents.
A star of Bryant's magnitude would be of better service by focusing on the next labor deal, not working on his own deal. It's one thing for lesser-known players to make the jump (not that they're in demand). The NBA minimum salary is $473,604, and the vast majority of players don't make anywhere near the $25 million Bryant pulled down last season.
Bryant won''t be in the position of struggling to make ends meet, so there's no reason he can't show more solidarity with his less well-off brethren. You can't blame players in the lower- and middle-income brackets if they feel as if Bryant is deserting them and going for self.
Such a move could lead the players' union to splinter along economic lines, making it easier for the owners to "win" by gaining huge concessions. Bryant surely can't be in favor of that outcome.
But apparently he's willing to take that risk.
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