Tag:lockout
Posted on: May 30, 2011 7:01 pm
Edited on: May 30, 2011 7:04 pm
 

30 days to the lockout: momentum, but no progress

MIAMI – Driven by record TV ratings in the conference finals and worldwide interest in the Miami Heat’s quest for a championship, the NBA will embark Tuesday on a heavily anticipated NBA Finals. It should be good, and it better be. This could be the last competitive NBA event for a long time.

The Heat vs. the Mavericks promises the kind of drama that can cement a sport in the nation’s consciousness for years. And yet the league continues to face the very real possibility of a work stoppage, with the negotiating clock at T-minus 30 days and counting.

Publicly, the signals have been decidedly mixed since All-Star weekend in Los Angeles about whether a lockout – presumed inevitable for at least a year – can be averted. The rhetoric was significantly softened at All-Star weekend in February, and deputy commissioner Adam Silver made the most optimistic comments to date at the draft lottery in Secaucus, N.J., earlier this month, saying the “throttle is down” on efforts to hammer out a deal before the current one expires June 30.

But those olive branches subsequently were snapped in two by National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, who has described the owners’ revised proposal – in which they offered the non-offer of phasing in their draconian changes over several years – as worse than the original one. Last week, the NBPA filed an unfair labor practices charge against the NBA with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging, among other things, that owners have not negotiated in good faith or provided suitable financial proof of their claims that the league is losing hundreds of millions a year under the current system.

So where are we? Thirty days out from what would be a debilitating and foolish display of stubbornness by both sides, sources familiar with the negotiating climate say it isn’t time to panic – but that time is coming soon.

“If there’s going to be a deal, I would say there are tipping points," one person familiar with the negotiations told CBSSports.com. "One tipping point is June 30. Once you get past June 30, people are inclined to sit around until the next tipping point, which is September.”

While the two sides remain far apart on the issues of a hard cap, reduced player salaries and an eventual elimination of guaranteed contracts, they at least are in agreement that they are farther along in negotiations than they were prior to the 1998-99 lockout, which resulted in a 50-game season. But one of the people familiar with the talks said there has been less progress at this point than there was in 2005, when noxious lockout fumes were in the air and catastrophe was averted with a surprise agreement during the NBA Finals. The owners, clearly, are no longer celebrating that victory, since they are trying to detonate most aspects of the deal that was ratified at that time.

Representatives for the owners and players met for a small bargaining session last week in New York, and a larger session is scheduled when the Finals shift to Dallas for the middle three games next week. Despite immense differences, the dialogue has been consistent for weeks – proof that neither side likes its chances if the dispute follows the NFL path to the courts.

“I think everybody is taking every opportunity right now to see if something can be done without a whole lot of distractions and rhetoric,” a person familiar with the negotiations said.

Developments in the NFL lockout have affected the NBA talks in significant ways. The NFL players’ initial victory in having their decertification validated in court, followed by the owners’ victory in temporarily preventing the lockout from being lifted, has only underscored the notion that commissioner David Stern and Hunter do not want this negotiation taken out of their hands and into the hands of politically appointed judges they don’t know. In some ways, both understand they’ll get a better deal through negotiation between now and July 1 than they’ll get in a courtroom after months of negative publicity and venom.

A ruling on the NBPA’s unfair labor practices charge isn’t expected for 6-8 weeks, sources say, which means the owners may have to decide to impose a lockout without knowing the outcome of the ruling. But the NLRB charge, sources say, has more to do with leverage than outcome. By putting their complaints in writing, the players have put the onus on both sides to hold good-faith negotiations and exchange legitimate proposals until the current deal expires.

“It puts the onus on both sides not to stall,” said another person familiar with the bargaining talks.

Of more importance is a ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on the validity of the NFL lockout. Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard June 3, with a ruling possible before the NBA lockout begins. If the appeals court upholds the portion of U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson’s ruling that proclaimed the NFL lockout of a decertified union illegal, leverage in the NBA negotiations would swing significantly toward the players. At that point, the proverbial throttle would be pushed even harder toward a negotiated deal; why would NBA owners want to follow the same futile path through the courts that foiled their NFL counterparts?

A ruling in favor of the owners in the Eighth Circuit would shift the leverage to the NBA owners, and raise the chances of a lockout to a near certainty.

But while there is no disputing the communication and momentum, there are a few problems with comparing the NBA’s current situation to the NFL’s – or even the NBA’s in 1998 and 2005. As for the NFL comparison, legal experts believe the NBA owners would have a better case in the courts because they are claiming to be losing millions under the current system – and have provided audited financial statements and tax returns to prove it. NFL owners don’t claim to be losing money; they just want to make more.

As for comparing this to the NBA’s ’98 or ’05 negotiations, the NBA is in a different place than it was then. In ’98, salaries were out of control and the game was about to embark on the uncertain journey of life without Michael Jordan. In ’05, owners were looking for tweaks to the ’99 agreement. Now, they are looking to permanently and dramatically alter the landscape of the sport.

Which they most certainly will do with a prolonged lockout. They will forfeit the lofty place in the sports world that the NBA finally has attained after the golden era of Magic and Bird and the golden goose that was Jordan. The Finals begin in about 24 hours, but it’s T-minus 30 days and counting to the showdown that matters a lot more.
Posted on: May 17, 2011 11:25 am
 

Hall, top NBPA lawyer, dies at 67


Gary Hall, general counsel for the National Basketball Players Association, died Sunday night at his apartment in New York City. He was 67.

The top lawyer for the players' association, Hall was friends with union chief Billy Hunter for more than 30 years. Funeral arrangements are pending.

“We were longtime friends and he was an excellent attorney,” Hunter told the Syracuse Post-Standard. “He was an outstanding lawyer, and he was extremely bright.”

Hunter and Hall met when Hunter was U.S. Attorney in San Francisco and worked together there at the Justice Department from 1978-85. Hunter hired Hall as general counsel of the NBPA in November 2005.

Hall had not been ill, and the cause of death is unknown, according to a person who knew the prominent Syracuse-area attorney. Hall would have played a key role in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement. The current deal, ratified in 2005, expires July 1.

 
Category: NBA
Posted on: April 25, 2011 7:49 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2011 8:00 pm
 

NFL ruling a victory for NBA players

The ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson putting a temporary end to the NFL lockout also was, by extension, a victory for the National Basketball Players Association in its ongoing labor negotiation with the NBA. 

In legitimizing the NFL players' move to dissolve their union in the face of the owners' lockout, and granting an injunction to end the lockout pending appeal, Nelson dealt a legal blow to both sports leagues in their efforts to use a lockout as a weapon in collective bargaining. 

"This is a victory for all professional sports unions," said Gabe Feldman, head of the Sports Law Center at Tulane University. 

Top officials with the NBA and NBPA were reading every word of Nelson's opinion Monday, but the upshot for the NBA's labor negotiation was clear and resounding: If the NBPA elects to decertify -- in effect, dissolving the union and forfeiting the ability to collectively bargain contracts and work rules -- then Nelson's ruling will stand as federal precedent rendering moot the NBA's presumed tactic of imposing a lockout. The NBA's collective bargaining agreement expires at 12:01 a.m. on July 1. 

Anticipating a lockout, the NBPA already has collected enough signatures to approve a vote for decertification, sources told CBSSports.com. Both sides in the NBA labor negotiation have been closely monitoring the NFL labor case, and top NBA negotiators for more than a year have been holding out hope that a decertification by the players would be ruled a "sham" by federal courts. 

But Nelson, the U.S. District Court Judge in Minneapolis, recognized the NFL players' decertification and created a precedent that has conclusive implications for a similar anti-trust lawsuit in the NBA. The NFL quickly announced that it will seek an immediate stay of Nelson's ruling and appeal to a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will render final judgment. 

Thus, the victory for NFL and NBA players "could be short-lived," Feldman said. "If the case stands up on appeal, it gives player unions a significant, though costly, weapon to use as leverage in labor negotiations." 

Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBPA, told SI.com that the decision was "a great ruling for the players. But it's like the first round of a 15-round fight." Hunter expects a stay to be granted.

"What it does is put pressure on us to sit down and settle this," Hunter said. "We just want a fair deal."

If NBA owners and players are not able to reach a new collective bargaining agreement by July 1, owners could still impose a lockout. But Nelson's ruling, if upheld on appeal, would make the tactic a moot point. After decertifying, NBA players could file an anti-trust lawsuit in any federal jurisdiction where the NBA does business, but almost certainly would seek out the same court that ruled in the NFL players' favor. 

If you're a lawyer or have too much time on your hands, you can read Nelson's 89-page opinion here.

Over the past week, NBA commissioner David Stern has substantially ratcheted down his rhetoric, saying at a Board of Governors meeting in New York and during a playoff media appearance in Philadelphia that a federal court case and potential National Labor Relations Board dispute "should be avoided." Stern said he and Hunter are in agreement that having their sport's future taken out of their hands and placed under the authority of the NLRB and/or federal courts would not be desirable. 

"The NFL is sort of out there on display," Stern said last Thursday night in Philadelphia. "Here they are, they're profitable, but their future somehow is involved in some combination of court cases and NLRB proceedings. On behalf of the NBA -- and I believe, Billy, on behalf of the union -- (we) understand that's a route that should be avoided." 

The NBA and NBPA now will wait potentially several weeks for the Eighth Circuit to rule on the NFL's appeal. In the meantime, Stern said after the most recent Board of Governors meeting in New York that owners intend to submit a second proposal to the players within the next two weeks. As of Monday, sources said that proposal has yet to be submitted. 

The two sides in the NBA negotiation remain miles apart on key issues ranging from contract lengths and guarantees to a proposal by owners to scrap the soft-cap/luxury tax system and replace it with a hard cap with no exceptions. Owners have internally discussed a willingness to phase in their changes over several years, but that has yet to soften the players' opposition. Owners and players also continue to disagree strongly on the issue of how much money NBA teams are losing. Stern said recently that 22 of the league's 30 teams are expected to lose money this season, to the tune of $300 million. 

NBA owners also seek to change the formula used to determine how much revenue is paid to the players as salary -- known as basketball-relate income, or BRI. Players currently receive 57 percent of BRI, net some expenses, but owners want to net out significantly more expenses before dividing up what's left between players and teams. In their counterproposal to the owners, the NBPA expressed a willingness to discuss a reduction in the players' share of BRI -- an offer that has been met with resistance from the owners, who say it costs too much to generate the revenue players receive.
Posted on: April 21, 2011 8:55 pm
Edited on: April 21, 2011 9:00 pm
 

Stern envisions replay official, challenge flags

PHILADELPHIA – NBA commissioner David Stern defended the officiating through the first week of the playoffs Thursday night and said he envisions a time when the league will have a dedicated replay official and when coaches will be allowed to throw challenge flags in the final two minutes of games. 

“The officiating has been how officiating is,” Stern said during a stop on his playoff tour at Game 3 between the Heat and 76ers. “We have this issue. We have humans that officiate our games and they don’t catch everything. But they’re the best at what they do.” 

The opening week of the playoffs included several controversial calls, including one in which Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins was incorrectly credited with a basket in the Thunder’s 102-101 victory over the Nuggets in Game 1 of their series due to a missed basket interference call. The league office issued a statement acknowledging the mistake, but a blatant trip by the CelticsKevin Garnett against the KnicksToney Douglas – helping to free Ray Allen for a deciding 3-pointer in Game 1 of that series – did not result in a mea culpa from Stern’s officiating department. 

Stern stressed several times the need to strive for accuracy through replay enhancement without further slowing down the games. 

“Eventually, you may have someone sitting at a desk rather than having a Talmudic discussion of three referees every time there’s a disputed play,” Stern said. “We might have one person whose job it is to keep the headphones on and always watch. And you might let a coach throw the flag in the last two minutes. We’re striving for accuracy. … We have to find a way to speed the game up, and to get it right. That’s the most important thing.” 

With developments Thursday further enhancing Sacramento’s efforts to prevent the Kings from moving to Anaheim, Stern said Oklahoma City owner Clay Bennett – chairman of the relocation committee – and several league officials are in Sacramento “verifying” Mayor Kevin Johnson’s assertions to the Board of Governors last week about Sacramento’s renewed financial commitment to the team. 

“Our preference was to understand that better, and the verification is under way,” Stern said. 

Asked if the recently agreed upon sale of the Pistons to Tom Gores and the expression of interest from Ron Burkle to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento was proof that the NBA’s financial state isn’t as dire as owners say, Stern said, “No. It just means they know we’re going to get a good (labor) deal and they’re already factoring it into their decisions to buy. And they know we’re not only going to get a good deal, but a deal that really makes it sustainable to buy a team.” 

Among the other topics addressed by Stern Thursday night: 

• Asked if the league needs provisions in a new collective bargaining agreement to prevent “player-made teams” like Miami’s, Stern said, “No, because I have grown up in this league with teams that had great players.” Referencing the Celtics and Lakers of the 1980s, Stern said, “To me, you may call me a players’ person, but the players made a deal that says they’re allowed to become free agents and decide where they want to go. And you’re making it into a federal offense to discuss where they might want to play with another player. It doesn’t warm my blood. In fact, if the team that can get those players is under the cap, that’s the way the system was designed to work. I don’t get too boiled for that.” 

• However, when asked about a Yahoo! Sports report from December that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert – a key member of the NBA’s labor relations committee – had retained counsel to investigate tampering allegations against the Heat for signing LeBron James, Stern said, “I’m aware of the issue, but there’s been no formal complaint of tampering or anything like that filed. … If there was tampering that someone could prove, that would make my blood boil.” 

• Reiterating comments he made earlier Thursday in New York to the Associated Press Sports Editors, Stern said he and players’ association chief Billy Hunter are in agreement that a court battle such as the one consuming the NFL in its labor dispute “should be avoided. … We’re going to do our best (to get a deal). And we’ve got more than two months.” 

• After maximum contract lengths were reduced by one year in each of the past two CBAs, Stern said he favored ratcheting them down again. “Shorter and less guaranteed,” he said. “I have no idea what they’ll agree to and I’m not going to negotiate with them here.” 

• On whether the Heat have met expectations, Stern said, “They met my expectations, but they didn’t meet everybody else’s. Before the season, everyone thought they were going to win 75 games and we should just mail the trophy. In fact, it takes a while for a team. This is a team game, and they’ve done pretty well. They’re pretty darn good and they’re playing awfully well, but it hasn’t been the walk in the park that they expected.”
Posted on: April 15, 2011 6:21 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 6:58 pm
 

Anaheim Royals? Not so fast

NEW YORK -- NBA commissioner David Stern on Friday dismissed the last-ditch candidacy of Ron Burkle to purchase the Kings and keep them in Sacramento, and the league’s board of governors voted to extend the Maloof family’s deadline to apply for relocation to Anaheim until May 2. 

In calling the Burkle plan "not a high priority," Stern at the same time praised Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s presentation, in which he promised millions of dollars in new sponsorships and funding for a new downtown arena. But after a decade of failed efforts to get the Kings a new building in northern California, Stern expressed skepticism about last-ditch efforts to keep the team there. 

"In light of the history in Sacramento, that's usually an eye-roller," Stern said in a news conference after the end-of-season Board of Governors meeting. "We don't know if that's real or a pie in the sky. We don't know whether we can find that out in a couple of weeks, but we are going to knock ourselves out to do it."

Later, on a pre-playoff conference call with national media, Stern described Johnson’s presentation as "persuasive," and said the relocation deadline was extended so owners would have more time to evaluate both the Anaheim relocation plan and Sacramento’s save-the-Kings proposal. Stern said a presentation by the Maloofs and Anaheim city officials was made "in good faith," but left owners with an incomplete understanding of issues such as funding, TV rights, desired arena improvements and "what would be an appropriate relocation fee."

"It just seemed to be a good idea to put it off for a couple of weeks," Stern said. 

If the Maloofs follow through with their application to relocate to Anaheim, Stern said the board would then evaluate whether the market can support a third team. Two board members told CBSSports.com that owners have yet to take a tally of whether the Maloofs have the required 16 votes to approve the relocation. One owner noted that if the vote is close, it will call into question the fact that the league will be casting the vote for New Orleans, which is now owned and operated by the other 29 owners. 

Sources also told CBSSports.com there’s a feeling among representatives of at least one team that more consideration be given to moving the Kings to Kansas City, given the franchise’s roots are there and the city’s arena is more NBA-ready than Anaheim’s Honda Center. "Interesting position," said one team representative. The issue of Kansas City, however, was not formally raised during the two-day meeting. 

"I think they’re planning on looking more closely at the Sacramento situation before a final decision is made," the team rep said. 

One of the owners told CBSSports.com that he detected a "bias" against relocation among members of the executive committee, which consists of representatives from all 30 teams. "I don’t think anybody likes to see teams moving," the owner said. 

But this sentiment was not evident in the selection of Thunder owner Clay Bennett to chair the relocation committee. Bennett’s appointment was quickly panned for several hours online by those pointing out the apparent conflict on Bennett’s resume -- given that he moved the SuperSonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City, creating a public relations nightmare for the NBA. Stern, of course, rejected such a notion while praising Bennett for his "yeoman’s work" on various committees. 

"I don’t think there’s any conflict at all," Stern said. "What would the conflict be? … Maybe Sacramento will think the same thing you do, which I don’t, that he favors movement. In this case, he favors what’s best for the league."

Some other news items from Stern’s pre-playoff media tour with deputy commissioner Adam Silver on Friday: 

• On the issue of Kobe Bryant’s gay slur costing him a $100,000 fine, Stern said there were no plans to come up with a list of words players would be forbidden to utter on the court. "Our rules are what they are, and for the most part, our players conduct themselves in the manner we’d like them to conduct themselves," Stern said. "Kobe apologized for his insensitive remarks. I think he understood it. He was severely penalized, and we’re ready to move on."

• The sale agreement transferring ownership of the Pistons from the Davidson family to Tom Gores’ Platinum Equity group has been signed, and Stern said the deal will close no later than June 30. Gores and Karen Davidson have assured Stern it will be done by the end of May. Owners were impressed with Gores, whom Stern referred to as "really gung-ho to make this thing into a winner and a community asset."

• Owners had what Stern described as "a very energetic discussion" about resuming play promptly after timeouts and possibly reducing the number of timeouts. 

• Despite the threat of a lockout, Stern said season ticket sales for next season are "ahead of last year’s pace." But Stern noted the money will have to be returned to customers, with interest, in the event of a work stoppage. 

• In response to a question about the roughly one-third of NHL teams that lost less money by not playing during hockey’s 2004-05 lockout, Silver said, "We do have teams that are in that situation. I won't say the precise number, but there are several that will do better financially if we’re not playing. Having said that, it’s absolutely our goal to get a deal. And even those teams that would do better by not playing, I’m sure they would prefer to be playing and build their business. There’s no doubt that as a business, we’d do enormous damage to ourselves by not playing."

Posted on: March 30, 2011 5:12 pm
 

Sources: NBA sends '09-'10 data to union

NEW YORK -- In another baby step in NBA labor talks, the league has furnished long-awaited financial data for the 2009-10 season to the National Basketball Players Association, which has begun a review of the documents, two people familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com Tuesday.

The data are crucial to both sides as they prepare for more heated negotiations that center on the financial health of the sport. Owners are seeking massive changes to the collective bargaining agreement, which expires June 30, based on their contention that the current model is not sustainable due to annual league-wide losses approaching $400 million. The NBPA, however, contends that the sport is healthier than the owners are willing to admit, citing last season's record revenues -- which are detailed in the documents furnished to the union in recent days.

Sources told CBSSports.com that high-ranking union officials have yet to analyze the documents, which will be added to a treasure trove of financial data the NBA has turned over to support its case for a massive reduction in player salaries and a hard salary cap to replace the current luxury tax-based system loaded with spending exceptions. Unlike the NFL in its labor fight with players, the NBA has been forthcoming with financial data, including audited tax returns from all 30 teams.

While the 2009-10 data are expected to support the union's belief that revenues remain robust and at record levels, the owners' case hinges on their assertion that costs are too high. While the '09-'10 data have not been fully vetted, they are expected to reflect an approximately $100 million decline in gate receipts, which was offset by a $130 million increase in non-ticket revenues, according to a person familiar with the league's finances. The $30 million net increase in revenues represents approximately a 1 percent rise from 2008-09, during the depths of the economic recession. During the same period, negotiated player salaries have decreased $120 million, the person familiar with league finances said.

While owners and league negotiators have long countered that a decrease in negotiated salaries is irrelevant because players are guaranteed 57 percent of basketball-related income (BRI), the players' association indicated in its July 1 proposal a willingness to negotiate a reduction in that guarantee. Nine months later, the owners have yet to come back to the table with a formal counterproposal.

NBPA executive director Billy Hunter, who had been out of the office and was unaware the league had sent the '09-'10 financial data when he spoke recently with CBSSports.com on various labor issues, is said to be preparing for an April meeting with commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver. Such a meeting, which has yet to be officially scheduled, could set the tone for negotiators on both sides as time begins to run out to achieve a compromise before a lockout would occur upon the expiration of the current agreement at midnight June 30. 

It is unclear when the heavy hitters in the NBA's labor fight will have clarity about the success or failure of the NFL players' attempt to thwart a lockout by decertifying their union. A hearing in the NFL decertification case is scheduled for April 6 in federal court in Minneapolis, but a ruling could take several weeks, sources say.










Posted on: March 11, 2011 7:20 pm
Edited on: March 11, 2011 10:39 pm
 

NFLPA's tactic will be blueprint for NBA talks

The decision Friday by the NFL Players Association to decertify and attempt to block a lockout by owners has wide-ranging implications for the NBA labor talks. While NBA labor strife is a few months behind football's timeline, legal experts expect the basketball game plans to play out in much the same way. 

For those keeping legal score at home, the first point to make is that there's no correlation between the timing of the NFLPA's decertification and the timing of such a decision by the NBPA. While labor attorneys view decertification -- the disbanding of a union and transformation its members into independent contractors -- as a potential deterrent to a lockout, the NBPA won't have the same time pressure to decertify that the NFLPA did. 

Once it became apparent Friday that no deal would be reached in the NFL talks before the 5 p.m. expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, the NFLPA had to decertify and put into motion its antitrust lawsuit or risk losing its sympathetic judge. U.S. District Court Judge David Doty in Minneapolis still has jurisdiction over any and all disputes stemming from the NFL's 1993 antitrust settlement -- but only when a collective bargaining agreement is in effect. If the NFLPA had waited until the agreement expired and/or the owners imposed a lockout, Doty -- who has a history of pro-player rulings -- wouldn’t have retained jurisdiction. Doty's jurisdiction stemming from the '93 settlement was included in all subsequent CBAs. 

The NBA and NBPA have no such provision, meaning lawsuits between the two sides can be filed in any court where the league or teams do business. In an interesting twist, Doty, 81, might want to clear his calendar for the summer. The NBA's collective bargaining agreement expires June 30, and one option at the NBPA's disposal would be to decertify and file an antitrust lawsuit -- guess where? -- in Doty's district. Legal experts say the case wouldn't necessarily be assigned to Doty, except that similar cases typically are assigned to the same judge to avoid differing opinions on the same legal issues within the same district. 

Related links

The outcome of the NFLPA's decertification move will provide a "road map" and a "blue print" for the NBPA as it weighs its legal options when it comes to preventing a lockout or reacting to one once the NBA owners impose it, said a person familiar with the NBA's labor situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to address the matter publicly. 

The question of whether the NBPA follows the NFLPA's lead and decertifies will depend nearly 100 percent on how successful the move is for the NFLPA. If NFL players are successful in getting an injunction preventing the NFL from imposing a lockout against a group of employees that is no longer unionized, this would be a clear green light for the NBA players -- who, coincidentally, are represented by the same attorney, Jeffrey Kessler. If decertification works for the NFL players, you don't need a law degree to see that the NBPA will run the very same play. 

But if the decertification tactic winds up being, as NBA commissioner David Stern called it, "the nuclear option that falls on the party that launches it," then it becomes far less likely that the NBA players would pursue it. 

"If the NFLPA is unsuccessful in blocking a lockout, then the NBA players will lose leverage," said Gabe Feldman, director of the Sports Law Program at Tulane University. 

Despite different issues, the NFL and NBA labor talks are in lock step -- so much so that Billy Hunter, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, issued a statement this week announcing his full support of the NFLPA's efforts.

"The success of the NFL is built on the backs and shoulders of NFL players," Hunter said. "NFL players deserve nothing less than an agreement that recognizes the players' contributions and sacrifices, despite the owners' threats and tactics to impose a lockout. The NBPA offers unconditional and uncompromising support for the NFLPA's continued efforts to secure a fair deal."

The ability to watch how the NFL legal fight plays out months before their own labor D-Day is a clear advantage for both the NBA and NBPA -- but not necessarily for one over the other. On one hand, having clues as to how certain legal moves will play out could save the NBA and its players some time and lead to a quicker resolution. But Feldman, who has closely followed the issues in both the NFL's and NBA's labor strife, said the NBA situation is far more ripe for a lengthy work stoppage than the NFL's. 

"Looking back at history at what has caused significant work stoppages in sports, it's typically when one side is seeking a sea change and that side has determined that they're better off not playing than playing under the current system," Feldman said. 

That describes the NBA owners, who are seeking to switch from a soft-cap to a hard-cap system, but not their NFL brethren, who seem to simply want to make more money for the same reasons dogs -- well, because they can. 

But with superteams having been built or under construction in all the major NBA markets, not all owners are down with the notion of killing the sport for a significant time -- perhaps for an entire season. In that regard, Stern will have a much more difficult time unifying his owners than NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will have. 

On one hand, a significant number of small-market and/or low-revenue owners are unfazed by the NBA's skyrocketing TV ratings. As one person familiar with ownership's bargaining strategy put it, the obvious interest in watching NBA games on TV has no bearing on the league's financial health. "They don't correlate," the person said, asserting that the NBA gets no additional money tied to higher ratings.  On the other hand, is Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan going to stand idly by while the 2011-12 season is canceled after it was revealed Friday that Knicks season-ticket prices will increase an average of 49 percent in the wake of the team's acquisition of Carmelo Anthony

If enough NBA owners are willing to go to the wall with their position that the soft-cap system is broken and must be obliterated at any cost, then there's little hope the early weeks and months after the expiration of the CBA will go any better than what the NFL is experiencing now. Both sides in the basketball fight can simply get their popcorn, see how the NFL players' decertification tactic works, and proceed accordingly. 

All of which means a potentially long summer of watching athletes perform in the courtroom instead of where they belong.
Posted on: February 19, 2011 12:46 am
 

Sources: LeBron calls out owners at CBA meeting

LOS ANGELES – Just before the All-Star break, LeBron James expressed hopefulness that progress could be made in the NBA’s labor talks so a lockout could be avoided. On Friday, James willingly accepted the leadership role that comes with his stature and called out certain hard-line owners for being unrealistic in their demands. 

James was one of several particularly vocal players in Friday’s bargaining meeting, and sources told CBSSports.com his chief complaint was with hard-line owners who’ve bought their teams in recent years and are now trying to dramatically alter the financial system they willingly bought into. 

“This has been a 57 percent system for years,” said a person who was in the meeting, paraphrasing James’ message. “This has been a system with guaranteed contracts forever. What did you guys expect? What did you think you were getting into?” 

That was among the highlights in an otherwise uneventful bargaining meeting, in which no actual negotiation was accomplished. Though the list of players in attendance was far longer than at last year’s All-Star meeting – in addition to the executive committee and some of the same top-flight stars who attended in Dallas, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Baron Davis, and Al Horford were among those in the room – the tone was much less contentious. But a compromise is no closer to occurring. 

“I’m worried about the league,” Dwyane Wade said. “It’s not just about myself, it’s about the future of the NBA. We want to make sure this game continues to grow and continues to prosper. We don’t want lockouts. We want this game to go on for many, many years, and we understand that a deal has to be done. Both sides have to come to an agreement. Neither side is going to come to an agreement if we can’t meet halfway.” 

Though National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter said the owners’ hard-line position “kind of softened” by the end of the meeting, the owners still are no closer to making a second proposal to counter the players’ proposal. The owners haven’t offered anything new in terms of a formal proposal since submitting their initial slash-and-burn document 13 months ago. 

“I don’t know that there’s going to be a formal, written proposal coming from them any time soon,” Hunter said. 

And absent that, nor will there be one from the players. 

“We won’t submit another proposal” before the owners do, Hunter said. “That’s out of the question. … If we’re going to avoid a lockout, they’ve got to move off the dime.” 

Hunter said he will meet with commissioner David Stern next week after the All-Star break and schedule a series of negotiating sessions that will begin in the next 1-2 weeks. 

“I’m going to tell my guys to be prepared for a lockout,” Hunter said. “… We’ve got four months. And we’re going to see what we can do in the next four months. If it comes together, good. If it doesn’t, then we put our players on notice.” 

Hunter did not back down from his previous prediction that a lockout is 99 percent certain, but said, “We’re going to negotiate. We’re going to make every effort. I keep saying the same thing. I’m beginning to hear myself, like an echo. We’re going to make every effort to negotiate. We want a deal. Our guys do not want to be locked out. But given no choice … if you don’t give us any choice and our only alternative is to fight, then we’ll fight. 

“If it means that we’ll have to lose a season to get a deal we can live with,” Hunter said, “we’re willing to do that. We don’t want to, but we’ll suffer some pain.” 

The owners James and other players were taking aim at in the meeting were the new, hard-line group that has come into the NBA in recent years – including the owner of James’ former team, Dan Gilbert. Owners like Gilbert, the Suns’ Robert Sarver, the Celtics’ Wyc Grousbeck and the Wizards’ Ted Leonsis weren’t around for the last lockout and rely more on the financial success of their NBA teams than the old-school owners ever did. 

It is those new owners, sources say, who are pushing the hardest for dramatic changes, including a hard cap and a reduction in contract length and guarantees. Sources say the players in the meeting were incredulous that owners are suddenly so hellbent on changing the rules they signed up for. The owners offered no response to the challenges issued by LeBron and several other players, sources said, but listened to their concerns in what was termed a “cordial” and “amicable” meeting. 

Hunter also said that when the union’s University of Chicago economist asked owners if they would be asking for the same changes if they were making more money, the response was, “Yes.” This was the most significant moment in the meeting, Hunter said, with owners revealing that their goal is not to cut losses but to increase profits. 

“We may never have a consensus on what the numbers mean,” Hunter said. 

Two key issues that are expected to become contentious – a possible franchise tag and the contraction of teams in underperforming markets – did not get much attention in Friday’s meeting. But Hunter reiterated his insistence that the players will not agree to a deal without seeing details of a vastly improved revenue-sharing system – the creation of which the owners believe should be handled separately from bargaining. 

As for an issue that affects a certain free agent-to-be who faces possibly losing millions if he opts out of his contract rather than sign an extension before June 30, sources say Carmelo Anthony emerged from the meeting with no more knowledge about the issue than he came in with. Earlier in the day, when asked about the risk of entering free agency in the first year of a potentially punitive CBA, Anthony replied, “That’s why I’m about to go meet with Billy Hunter.” 

“You’ve got guys who’ve negotiated their contracts this past year – LeBron, Chris Bosh, etc.,” Hunter said. “Does that the mean that if a guy like Carmelo comes up while we’re negotiating and if the franchise player tag gets introduced and adopted, that he now suffer as a consequence because he can’t go out on the market? I don’t know if that’s acceptable to me.”
 
 
 
 
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