The best and perhaps last chance at salvaging this NBA season will come Monday in New York, when all 30 player representatives are expected to gather to see how much pride they can swallow in one bite.
During the past four months, physically gifted players with massive egos, incredible athletic ability and wildly successful careers have evolved into the Washington Generals. They've been blown out at the negotiating table by the Globetrotting owners, who have done everything but throw buckets of confetti at them.
The confetti comes this week, if and when the owners' latest proposal is ratified.
The owners are the clear winners in this, taking back more than $3 billion in revenue over the next decade.
No one on the players' side seems happy with the current proposal, and Billy Hunter's time as the executive director of the union is almost certainly over. It shouldn't be long now until he is relieved of his duties. Few executives could survive after negotiating a deal that would cost a corporation more than $280 million annually -- the amount of cash the players will have agreed to give back to the owners in basketball-related income should they decide to take this deal.
"There comes a time when you have to be through negotiating," NBA Commissioner David Stern said Thursday after presenting the players this final offer. "And we are."
Truth is, the owners never really negotiated at all. Citing mounting losses in arenas across the country, owners who weren't part of the old collective-bargaining agreement were determined to wrestle back control of their league -- much to the anger of players.
"Why do they keep scrambling us to New York for these meetings when they never listen to us?" one player representative told Yahoo Sports on Thursday. "We told them not to go past 53 percent. They did. We told them we're not taking this deal. Why waste our time?"
What some players still fail to grasp, but Hunter and union President Derek Fisher seem to finally understand, is the owners were never going to move one cent beyond a 50/50 split in basketball-related income. They didn't have to because they own the product, the marketing and the television contracts that make this league so successful.
The players defiantly entered these negotiations in July believing they had leverage and other viable alternatives. It has taken a few months, but now they realize they never had either.
The Americans who fled to play overseas are dealing with a culture shock that includes strange food and a different language -- not to mention contracts that fail to meet the ones NBA teams can offer. Nets star Deron Williams, now playing in Turkey, is keeping a diary of his experience and recently wrote about taking his kids to see Disney on Ice. Only one problem: The whole show was in Turkish.
The superstars who have stayed home, such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant, have gathered together in a few pickup games across the country. They have played in front of decent-sized crowds in small, castoff arenas, but the miniscule media presence has prevented them from exploding nationally.
The owners obviously need the players, but the players need the owners even more. The past four months have reminded us of that.
Now the owners will take great delight in making them kiss the ring.
In a last-ditch effort to manufacture leverage and create options, players are still on the verge of decertifying the union. Decertifying wouldn't immediately put an end to the season, but it would be a mighty strong heave in that direction.
The owners and players would have a window to continue negotiating, after which time lawsuits from both sides would fill federal court. There is a risk that if the players decertified, the owners would lose millions in antitrust lawsuits. That didn't happen in the NFL's labor battle, and given how far the owners have come, I doubt it would completely frighten them off their demands now.
If the players wanted to decertify, they should've done it in July, not November. Such a move over the summer, however, would've stripped Hunter of most of his power.
Instead, Hunter has indirectly backed his players into a bad spot. A large percentage of them are ready to play and understand decertifying now could cost them the season. Players who would've been eager to decertify in July now simply want to get back on the court.
For now, the players and owners continue to point loaded guns at each other -- the players using the threat of decertification against the owners' threat to reset their current proposal down to just 47 percent of basketball-related income for the players if talks break down again.
The players can continue to deny it if they'd like, but they are quickly running out of options. They're carrying the water pistols, but the owners are holding rifles.