OK, Whose Move Is It?

The 1% Solution (Cont.): Let's see, a 2% difference, divided by two warring parties is...

OK, it's still insoluble for NBA owners and players, now reportedly down to back-channel contacts, which may just mean Tim Frank and Dan Wasserman, the p.r. guys, found themselves in the same line at Starbucks.

On the other hand, if the side at 50% of revenue isn't in touch with the side at 52% while their lawyers prepare to sue each other back to the Stone Age, someone is crazy.Not that that means much with so many of the participants having already gone certifiably bonkers.

With 24% of the schedule gone, the tab is $1 billion, payable this season... to fight over one percentage point worth $500 million, over 10 years. That's before assessing the damage the NBA has done to itself after 12 seasons of trying to rebuild its image since Michael Jordan left Chicago.

Happily, or not, who even knows the NBA isn't playing?

Check national talk shows. Aside from broadcast partners like ESPN, few people are paying the NBA the compliment of noticing it's gone. The few who do aren't really paying attention, saying predictable things about Players Spurning All That Money.

Yes, NBA players are often divas, and, as a group, teams (if not owners) have long lived close to the blade economically. Now the owners' problem is as much their rich ones trying to keep their wildly disproportionate profits from the small ones.

The players have already signed off on a mega-giveback. As far as gains, the players get none in this deal which cuts contract length and raises as usual... ready to take 51%, down from 57, a giveback worth $2.7 billion over 10 years, by itself.

That's a conservative estimate, based on splitting the NBA's projected 5 percent gain this season in half (that's 2.5 percent for owners unfamiliar with the process), which would put revenues at a $4.5 billion average over 10 years.

Offered $2.7 billion, the owners said they couldn't live with $1 less than $3.2 billion and the players could take it or leave it. The owners are now supposedly back down to 47%, seeking rollbacks of existing contracts, etc., at least according to the timetable they announced. Actually, David Stern hasn't mentioned that lately, to avoid confusion with the players' charge the NBA refused to bargain in good faith, the basis of their anti-trust suit. Leaving legal strategy aside, if there are owners waiting for the players to give up, and we know who you are, they got it wrong, again.

The only pressure on Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher has come from big agents and other militants that finally led to decertification. Actually, Hunter should have done it months ago. In 1998-99 with the big agents in control of the union ready to shut down in defense of their stars' uncapped salaries, the divided players held out until the January drop-dead date and made a deal without decertifying.

Hunter could be forgiven for thinking nothing could be that bad again. Or maybe, as Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski suggested, Billy wanted to keep drawing his pay. In any case, courts have a sobering effect on over-entitled owners, who recognize few enough limits.

The conventional wisdom is that last spring's NFL players' suit had no effect, since the league got its lockout reinstated on appeal. Actually, decertification hit NFL owners, the most entitled of all, between the eyes.

One day Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was calling Peyton Manning "son" and asking if he needed help reading a profit and loss sheet. The next day, the owners' demand for an expanded schedule was relegated to an issue they could reintroduce (and the players could resist). Peace arrived in time to play almost all the exhibition games.

Meanwhile, Hunter was giving Stern and NBA owners the summer off. Maybe Hunter thought too much of Stern, even knowing how crazed the owners were. Maybe Billy thought too much of the NBA owners. Actually, so did I, after a career of covering as many owners' foibles as players' foibles. Live and learn.

When this started, I dismissed the owners' incredible claims of $300 million annual losses, assuming time and the process would reveal the truth. Indeed, Stern, who's rational, if not one who likes to be crossed, dropped his draconian demands in October, trying to get the 50-50 deal insiders said he wanted all along. Knowing the pressure on Stern, it wasn't surprising that he cancelled the first two weeks. Big kidder that he is, Stern had an ace in the hole, a plan to turn back the clock and play 82 games. That was when they almost made peace, after which the warmongers inherited the league.

Of course, no one goes to war for 2% unless they're wackos, don't need the money, or, like these guys, both.

OK, wackos, whose move is it again?