Right now, Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Eric Foster isn't giving a moment's thought to the plight of NBA owners or NBA players. He has other worries, the result of an injury that left his shin pointing north and his foot gruesomely pointing to the southwest.
Come Wednesday morning, though, I found myself thinking about Foster, an NFL player, and the continuing lockout of NBA players.
While Foster has to worry about his career, whether he's going to come back next year or ever, an NBA player in his spot would be without concern. If Foster were an NBA player with a multiyear deal -- as most players are -- he would be set to make money for years to come.
In the NFL, where careers are extinguished in the blink of an eye, contracts are not guaranteed beyond the signing bonus. In the NBA, where injuries are far less prevalent, contracts are fully guaranteed, to the point where the Indiana Pacers are only now getting out from under the millions they had to pay Jamaal Tinsley.
The point being this:
The players' union has to stop fighting over 2 percent or 3 percent of the basketball-related income and get back on the basketball court.
I realize this is a lockout and not a strike, that this whole thing has been planned and perpetuated by owners who too often need to be saved from themselves. But the NBA business model is broken. Part of that is the fault of owners who need to increase the revenue sharing numbers and help out the likes of the Pacers and Sacramento Kings. But part of it is, times have changed, the economy has gone in the tank, and the players have to be willing to give back more to make their league work. We can argue all day about exactly how many teams are losing money and how much they're losing, but even Forbes magazine acknowledges that enough teams are struggling to make change necessary for the health of the league.
If we are to believe Commissioner David Stern, the owners already have stopped fighting for rollbacks on contracts, have come off demands for a hard salary cap and no longer are interested in only partially guaranteeing some contracts.
So it comes down to dividing the basketball revenue.
That shouldn't be a reason to blow up part or all of the season.
The risk for everybody is far too great. Even after one of the most compelling seasons in history, with so many likable superstars and mega-teams and built-in drama, the NBA maintains an increasingly tenuous hold on the American sporting consciousness. Take away part or all of this NBA season, and how many fans will come running back, especially in cities like Indianapolis?
I have not heard this sentence uttered once in my presence:
"Man, it's killing me the NBA season isn't going to start on time."
Of course not. We've got the NFL. We've got the baseball playoffs. The college football season is in full swing. The NHL season begins today. (OK, that's just me.)
In a good year, the NBA is a back-burner sport until late January.
Go away now, and the damage will be significant.
If the owners are serious about something close to a 50-50 split of basketball-related revenue, that must be a deal-maker.
Consider this: The NFL union wanted a 50-50 split and settled for roughly 48 percent in a sport that is flourishing. NBA players were at 57 percent and are willing to move to 53 in a sport that is struggling.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, I'm a players' guy. I'm a players' guy because I'm a union guy, and I'm all about improving the lot of the regular worker.
There's no question, the owners have put themselves in this position. Nobody put a gun to anybody's head when it was time to make Rashard Lewis, now in Washington, the second-highest-paid player in the league at $22 million this season. There are plenty of dimwitted owners and general managers in this league who saddle their franchises with ridiculous player contracts. As an example, a lot of the Pacers' wounds in the past decade have been self-inflicted.
But the players have had it so good for so long, it's time for them to get off the gravy train and make some significant concessions in the interest of the league's long-term financial viability. They're going to take a hit -- through last season they got 57 percent of the basketball-related income and haven't accepted anything less than 53 percent of the BRI in 28 years -- but these are unique and troubled times.
Think about Eric Foster, and how his life would be different if he were an NBA player in the middle of a long-term deal. One terrible moment on a football field, and he's looking at the loss of millions of dollars.
The distance between the league and the union doesn't seem all that great right now.
It's time for the players to leave a few bucks on the table, and get back to work.