The problem with telling only half the truth is that the half of the audience that really cares has hit the exits before you're done.
So it was last week when agent David Falk claimed the reason Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing & Co. wanted to scrap the NBA players' union was to make sure fans have an uninterrupted season. In this case, it was that half of the audience that remembered this simple notion: Whenever something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.Good for them. Falk could have said lots of things. He could have said simply that the players were offered a rotten deal with no other out and left it at that. But no. The only thing statements like this should earn him and the whole lot of his clients is scorn:
"The players want to show the fans they're committed to entertaining them," he said.
If that were really so, Mike and Pat and Reggie Miller and Chris Webber and a few more of the guys would be in your neighbor's driveway already, playing 4-on-4, winners keep the court, every day from sun up to sundown until everyone in town got tired of watching.
Or, as an alternative, they would have signed the collective bargaining agreement reached by their union officials in talks with the owners in June and gone on with business as usual - though considerably richer.
(It seems hard to believe that the proposed deal, which would have paid an average salary of $2 million and guaranteed that about 60 of gross revenues would be spent on salaries, would be rejected without a vote. But it was.)
Or, as a third option, those same players could have told those same union representatives that the contract as formulated was unacceptable. Then they could have called for a meeting of all union members to draft a new list of demands, followed by a new round of bargaining with the owners.
The solution Falk and Arn Tellem and a few more high-powered agents drafted instead, and got their clientele to sign onto, was to decertify the union.
That way, Falk should have said, my clients and the few more like them at the top of the NBA pyramid, would get everything they wanted and the bottom feeders could fight for what's left.
Instead, Falk said, decertification meant players would be unable to go on strike. Decertification, he went on, was the only way for the NBA to avoid what baseball and hockey went through in the past year. That way, Falk said, "There's only one reason the games won't be played, and that's if the owners stubbornly and foolishly don't allow them to be played."
The reason Falk claimed this was so was because only a day earlier, after talks between the league and the players had broken off, NBA commissioner David Stern warned the month-old lockout would continue indefinitely.
"If there's no union, the owners won't play the '95 season," he said. "The owners will keep the players locked out."
Under normal considerations, this being one of those indefensible, all-too-familiar fight between millionaires about how to divvy up billions, Stern would qualify as unsympathetic a character as any.
After all, if the owners' were willing to pay an estimated $5 billion to $6 billion in salaries and benefits over the six years of the proposed deal, business as usual couldn't have been too bad. And in most instances, for Stern to come forward and pitch the idea that the owners had to have a salary cap, a rookie cap and a luxury tax, would make him look greedy and a dupe, or both.
But Falk took care of that little problem for him. To a sporting public decidedly uninterested in most of the details, a public whose collective vision has been blurred by hockey's brief but vicious spat and baseball's continuing squabbles, he managed to call attention to himself with that half of the truth that nobody buys into anymore:
"The aim of the players is this," Falk said, "How do they give the game back to the fans?"
The longer this labor problem stretches out, the more likely the fans will answer it for Falk and all the people he represents: Go ahead and keep it.