Say the Secret Word, Buttheads

Say the secret word, will you, buttheads?

Groucho Marx had a quiz show where contestants who said the secret word got $100, delivered by a papier-mache duck dropping in over their heads.

The word was easy, but not as easy as the secret word in the NBA lockout, which owners and players just have to utter for a duck to come down and give them $4 billion.

We even know the word, just as Groucho's audience did...

It's "Fifty-one!"

That's also represented as 51... as in a 51-49 split of Basketball Related Income.

Of course, if the owners continue their principled stand at 50 and the union maintains its at 52, a duck could still come down and drop something else on their head.

With agreement on nearly everything else and 2.5 little percentage points separating the two sides last week, the players dropped half a point to 52.

The owners didn't move at all.

Hey, think of the bright side. If they ran the government, it would be our money they threw out the window.

This way it's just their money. If you haven't heard, each side has a lot... so knock yourselves out, guys.

Making it worse, both sides knew further wrangling was dumb, since every single week they lost was costing more than they were fighting over.

Each of the season's 25 weeks is worth $160 million -- 4 percent of the projected $4 billion in BRI.

Split two ways, that's $80 million per side.

With Commissioner David Stern having just cancelled the third and fourth weeks, that's $320 million... per side!

The 2 percent they're fighting over is only $80 million.

Even at a total of $480 million over a six-year deal, that's $240 million per side... less than they've lost arguing about it!

(For those following this closely, don't you have anything else to do? But yes, I'm ignoring future growth so the 2 percent could be as much as $700-750 million or maybe even $800 million with a new TV deal... which I suspect will be forthcoming not long after this gets settled.)

(Anyone notice that shortly after the NFL got its new bargaining agreement, ESPN extended their deal for eight years through 2023... bumping the annual rights fee 50 percent, from $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion?)

(You don't think Commissioner Roger Goodell knew that was coming, do you?)

(Actually, how could Goodell not have known?)

Not that I'd put anything past these people but, discounting the usual theatrical touches (long faces, tight lips, etc.), I'd expect them to cut the deal this week.

Let's put it this way, it's their game and, for at least some of them, including Stern, their livelihoods.

Aside from them, I'm not sure who gives a damn.

ESPN didn't even send a news-side reporter to do the usual standup in front of the hotel at last week's meetings until Mark Schwartz showed up Thursday.

For two days before that, with a deal looking imminent, ESPN sufficed with Philadelphia-based Stephen A. Smith's take, from the studio. On the day before, Stephen A. was in the studio in Philadelphia.

Not that the talks were in a remote location. Try the Waldorf-Astoria, On Park Avenue in the middle of Manhattan.

As for the fans, they've been really brave.

Let's say you're a Laker fan with eight courtside seats. There really is such a person -- Steve Jackson, a sneaker maven who used to make Shaquille O'Neal's shoes, who sits with his family in the Denzel Washington corner.

At this point, all the Jacksons know they'll miss are the two home exhibition games Steve is obliged to buy as part of the package.

That's two times eight times $2,600 ... or $41,600 he just saved!

Of course, we're not sure what has actually been cancelled.

On Oct. 10, Stern announced they were cancelling the first two weeks... which somehow resurfaced last week when union director Billy Hunter noted the owners were still hoping to play 82 games.

Unfortunately, this suggested to the players that the owners wanted a deal so badly, they'd give them 52 percent.

On the other hand, Hunter has noted often enough that he knows Stern's owners are holding his feet to the fire on this one.

Thus Hunter couldn't have been shocked when, instead of making a deal, Stern announced the cancellation of weeks three (ka-ching, there went $160 million) and four (another $160 mill.)

We're past right, wrong, fair or unfair.

I thought the owners had a compelling case in 1999 when super-agent David Falk hijacked the union through his high-end clients.

I thought the players had a compelling case this time with their willingness to accept a giveback -- now up to $200 million annually.

Now if everyone wants to go over the falls for the sake of that last point, have a nice trip.