- Associated Press - Monday, October 17, 2011

JaVale McGee may not know a lot about the state of negotiations between NBA players and owners, but he seems to be a quick study when it comes to crisis control.

Say something stupid, as McGee did the other day when he suggested some players were ready to give in to owners, and the first thing he did was deny the words ever came out of his mouth.

“I never said anyone is ready to fold!” McGee tweeted. “Media always wanna turn it!”

Unfortunately for McGee, his words were recorded by about a dozen reporters and no amount of denials will change them. Even worse, they surely were heard in New York, where NBA Commissioner David Stern has been busy waging a one-man media blitz, blaming the NBA players’ union for everything but world hunger.

The real question, though, isn’t whether Stern heard McGee. It’s whether the players are finally listening to Stern.

His latest threat is an NBA season that doesn’t begin until after Christmas, if at all. His latest deadline is Tuesday, when owners and players are scheduled to meet with a federal mediator with almost zero chance of bridging the chasm between them.

Bit by bit, Stern has upped the pressure. Bit by bit, he’s tightened the screws.

By now you would think players would have figured out he’s not bluffing. Stern’s willingness to quickly cancel the first two weeks of the regular season should have been a clue.

This isn’t a battle the players will end up winning, no matter how united they turn out to be. Hardline owners have too much invested in the outcome, and know that there never will be a better time to take a stand.

Even Dennis Rodman, the old basketball sage himself, seems to understand that.

“I think the players should bow down,” the retired All-Star said last week.

Perhaps they should, before the premier Christmas games are canceled, and before the entire season slips away. Take, say, half of the $4 billion the NBA generates in basketball related revenue and save the drama for the last two minutes of the game.

Accept the fact that the average NBA salary of $5.15 million is not only quite fair, but extraordinarily generous. Play basketball again instead of playing games. Understand, too, that this will not end like the NFL lockout because it’s not just a fight over profits. Stern and company want to make fundamental changes to a league where the competitive balance has long been tilted and they’re determined that this is the time to take a stand.

Despite what the players might believe, that’s not all bad. Not when they can keep guaranteed contracts that NFL players only dream about, and not when the initial financial hit would likely be eased by growing revenues.

Until now, the union has taken a hard line in the negotiations, budging only a bit on the current 57 percent guarantee of basketball revenue to players and refusing to accept a hard spending cap. Owners, meanwhile, haven’t budged much, either. They do what owners usually do in contract talks _ stall until the employees start showing signs of cracking.

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