The public relations aspect of the NBA lockout is and has been overlooked by the players and the union, to their detriment.
All along the owners saw the apex of the games popularity as the best and safest time to lockout the players because it is much easier to rebuild from strength than weakness, and because the people most visible in the conflict would be the players, so they were guaranteed to receive the brunt of the blame from the public. With history and psychology on their side, the owners are holding fast to the old adage: out of sight, out of mind.
The players pulling the solidarity stunt at the negotiating meeting the day after the draft played right into David Stern’s hands. He was so happy to see the fifty or so players filing out of their bus for their unwittingly Pyrrhic photo op in their STAND t-shirts that when asked what he thought about it he said, ‘It was great,’ and ‘Nicely done.’ What the commissioner was really thinking was that it was like serving a loaded gun on a platter to your sworn enemy because it helped to put a public face on the conflict: the players’.
The average fan wouldn’t know most of the owners of the thirty NBA teams if they saw one of them walking down the street. But the players are globally visible, thanks in large part to the NBA’s PR machine. The owners, half of whom boast a net worth north of half a billion dollars, can go two seasons without basketball and let the players get the blame. The players, half of whom notoriously live paycheck to paycheck, can’t go one season; but even worse, are so dependent on the adulation of their fans that they can’t handle being blamed.
That is when, the owners are betting, the players will cave. Not when they run out of money, buy when they run out of popularity.
The players have been poor before, but they’ve never been unpopular before. That would REALLY hurt! The common thinking among the media and most basketball fans has been that this is the worst time to lockout. But to the pr savvy David Stern and his cohort of NBA owners, it’s actually the best time of all!