Owners, players can’t reach deal, NBA lockout is on.
NEW YORK —- Back in February 2009, union head Billy Hunter appeared on stage with commissioner David Stern. Hunter was asked, with the global economy in crisis, whether the two sides would begin talks on a new collective bargaining agreement ahead of schedule.
“Your question presupposes that David and I haven’t been talking,” Hunter answered. “Yeah, we have been. I can’t tell you that we are close to reaching a deal. But we have been talking.”
Two years and four months later, there’s still no deal, and the owners will lock out the players, effective at 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday. The players and the owners held their final meeting here at the Omni Berkshire hotel just hours before the scheduled expiration of the current collective bargaining, and could not make enough progress to come up with a new agreement.
”We tried to avoid a lockout, but we couldn’t get a deal,” Spurs player rep Matt Bonner, who was in the meeting, said. “We’re going to keep working at it.”
The main issue, still, is the form that the league’s salary cap will take. Currently, the NBA has one of the softest caps in sports, set at about $58 million but easily surpassed, but the owners are seeking a “flex cap” with a hard ceiling. The players want to keep something approximating the status quo.
“They haven’t changed that,” NBPA president Derek Fisher said. “There was nothing new from them in terms of their proposal.”
There was little actual progress made during the three-hour meeting, and no further meetings have been set up. While Hunter indicated that the sides might take as much as a month off to see how their stances might “soften,” Silver anticipated that meetings could start again next week, possibly setting up agendas as early as Tuesday.
The owners were represented by Spurs owner Peter Holt (the head of the league’s labor relations committee), Knicks owner James Dolan, Stern and NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver.
Hunter did characterize the meeting as friendly. “They were extremely cordial,” Hunter said. “It was almost like we were singing kumbaya up there.”
“My level of disappointment is for a lot of our fans and people who follow our game,” Fisher said. “Although they’re not going to miss any games at this point, they still just don’t like the prospect of a lockout. We don’t like it either. But our owners feel like it is the best way for them to get what they want. We don’t agree. We’re still going to continue to negotiate in the midst of this lockout.”
Stern shared Fisher’s disappointment, and Hunter’s opinion that talks have been amicable. Not that it matters. “The lack of animosity doesn’t get us any closer,” Stern said. Asked whether he felt better about the state of talks now than he did in 1998, when the league underwent a lockout of about six months, Stern said, “No, we’re not closer. I don’t think we’re closer, and it worries me that we’re not closer.”
While the union avoided giving specifics on the meeting, Silver pointed out that the players did come in with a revised proposal. The league’s proposals have all had 10-year timeframes, while to this point, the union’s proposals have been for five years. The union made a proposal for a six-year deal, but sought to increase average salaries from $5 million to $7 million over that span. “Peter Holt said to them that was unacceptable,” Silver said.
Both Silver and Stern did take issue with the portrayal of some issues in the media. Stern talked about players offering to give back $100 million per year over five years, noting that the $100 million number was based on a proposal of $12.7 billion going to the players over five years. Players reduced that to $12.2 billion in the next proposal, and the $500 million was the resulting difference. “The proposal always included them making more,” Stern said. “But they said they would make $500 million less than they otherwise would have made.”
Silver pointed out that a handful of stories detailing teams’ expenses are sometimes fuzzy. “Interest on debt is a real expense,” Silver
The two sides have had difficulty even deciding what it is they’re arguing about. That seemed to leave Stern discouraged about a quick resolution to this labor fight. “These things take on a life of their own,” Stern said. “And I just have no idea where that life is going to lead.”