David Stern Peels His ScabsS

The referees you've always hated will probably be back for Tuesday's NBA opener, replacing the replacement referees you were going to hate even more. And so ends a monthlong referee lockout that really had nothing to do with the referees.

The union's 57 refs have a vote scheduled for Friday and will likely approve the deal, according to the New York Times' Howard Beck. The sticking points had been the referees' pension plan and severance package, and the two sides were reportedly only $700,000 apart before negotiations broke down. That represents just a shade over .02 percent of NBA revenue, a tiny pot over which David Stern nevertheless chose to scratch and claw, not because the league is so hard up for cash that it has to take it out of its referees' pockets, but because Stern, with NBA-NBPA collective-bargaining talks underway, wanted to make a big show of scratching and clawing.

This has long been Stern's m.o. (Remember: He came out of Proskauer Rose, a union-busting firm that now basically serves as a farm system for sports suits.) I know we're all supposed to genuflect at his feet for launching the NBA into the stratosphere, but he has now presided over three player lockouts and two referee lockouts and in the process dramatically changed the character of the league he inherited from Larry O'Brien (the guy who really did launch the NBA into the stratosphere, no matter how many tape-delay jokes Bill Simmons makes). There was labor peace before Stern, and it probably saved the league, and now there isn't, and it has cost not only half of one season but a great deal of the league's public-relations mojo (the demonization of NBA players as greedhead thugs has its roots in the labor strife of the 1990s; nobody trashed the players harder than the people who paid them). The NBA is a surly place now, and the guy who's running it has no qualms about throwing a few weaklings up against the wall, just to show everyone how tough he is.

N.B.A. Reaches a Deal With the Referees Union [The New York Times]