Mac Engel: Bill Guerin to NBA players: It's not worth it

Posted Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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To all NBA players who stand unified against the godless owners, read these words of warning from a former NHL player about the reality of losing an entire season:

"It's not worth it. Get a deal done," former Dallas Stars forward Bill Guerin said during a phone call last week.

There was not a single NHL player during the Great Lockout of 2004-05 who was a bigger proponent of the union's fight than this man. No one believed in the cause more than Guerin, and to hear him admit this is a bit stunning.

"I learned a big lesson: It's not a partnership. It's their league, and you are going to play when they want," he said.

Today, Guerin has hindsight and his experience serves as a giant caution to any player who thinks losing a game, much less an entire season, to this lockout is a good idea. His message is simple: Get what you can; start playing; you are not going to win what you think.

"It is not worth it to any of them to burn games or to burn an entire year. Burning a year was ridiculous," Guerin said. "It wasn't worth me giving up $9 million a year, or 82 games plus the playoffs, then having a crappy year and being bought out.... Guys in the NBA making $15 million or however much better think long and hard about this."

The NBA is stuck in a nasty labor fight with the players' union, and the league already canceled the first couple of weeks of the regular season.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has cautioned that if a deal isn't done soon there will be no games through Christmas, at least.

When reflecting on the NHL lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season, Guerin sounds like a man who had reality shoved down his throat. There is no bitterness in his voice, just truths, which aren't necessarily positive. The truth is Guerin, or any player, really isn't in charge as long as those who are cutting the checks are unified. If it doesn't sound that much different than your job, it's because it's not.

"We could have waited two years and they would have waited us out -- I would have given an extra 2 percent back to play that year," Guerin said. "When you are in the heat of battle, and you are fired up, you don't think what they are doing is right. But it's not about what is right or wrong -- it's their league. It's theirs. I feel, personally, I didn't like guys giving up a year of their career, for what? A few less bucks? Guys are making more money now than they ever have."

Much of what is taking place right now between the players and owners sounds and feels very similar to the early days of the NHL lockout in 2004. Stern has total autonomy. No owner is talking, which means Stern has solidarity and leverage.

"The only thing you can die in the battlefield for in something like this is guaranteed contracts; everything else is nickel-and-dime stuff and it's not worth it," Guerin said.

Guerin, 41, is retired, and works part time as an assistant for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He lives with his wife and their four children in Long Island, N.Y., and can do so because he took care of his money while he played.

With the economy in a full dog paddle, and the Occupy Wall Street movement gaining traction, neither side appears to be winning the PR battle. No one sides with owners because they embody the "Big Bank/Wall Street" element that has become all that is wrong with the world.

We all know by now that just because they reduce their costs means they will certainly not pass the savings on to the consumer. They pass the savings on to themselves.

Meanwhile, no one cares about guys who play basketball for a six-figure check.

"People say it's OK for ownership to make money because they worked hard to make money and afford to buy a sports franchise," Guerin said. "But the athlete is dumb and good at his sport and fortunate to play sports and make millions."

This reminds me of the Chris Rock bit on Rich vs. Wealth: "Here is the difference," Rock says, "Shaq is rich. The white man that signs his check is wealthy. I ain't talking about rich, I'm talking about wealth."

This stupid thing could end today, tomorrow, next month or whenever.

Most of us have problems that don't compare so we don't care about this. For the vast majority of us, the NBA is a luxury rather than a need. We don't really need the NBA, because it's just a movie.

Guerin sounds like a man who learned this lesson, and one of the many truths that exist in our world.

"For so long, I thought so long and hard about it," he said. "But when you think about it, I tell guys it wasn't worth it."

Follow Mac Engel on Twitter @MacEngelProf or The Big Mac Blog.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

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