Posted on: December 18, 2009 4:52 pm

NBA, union to exchange proposals at All-Star

NEW YORK -- The All-Star game in Dallas will be significant for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is Texas' attempt to do it bigger than anyone else in the 100,000-seat Cowboys Stadium. But something else will happen behind the scenes, in a much smaller room, that will be even more critical.

Representatives from the NBA and the players' association plan to use All-Star weekend Feb. 12-14 as the first opportunity to meet face-to-face and actually exchange proposals on a new collective bargaining agreement, NBPA president Derek Fisher said Friday.

"All-Star will kind of be maybe the first real step in cracking this thing open and taking it beyond just exchanging information," Fisher said after the Lakers practiced at an East Side health club in preparation for Saturday's game at New Jersey. "I would say it would be more of an exchange of proposals. I don’t think any negotiations would begin until they see what we’re offering and we see what they’re offering."

The two sides previously met Aug. 5 in New York, where the owners officially notified the players that -- as expected -- they would not opt to extend the current agreement beyond the 2010-11 season. They've spent the past four months exchanging financial information so both sides can be on the same page once actual negotiations begin. Fisher, who met with NBPA executive director Billy Hunter Friday, said the league furnished its latest round of financials to the union about a week ago.

One person with knowledge of the situation said the league has been more forthcoming with financial data than ever before, which could be a sign of two things: 1) The data on revenues, attendance, and the like are more grim than in previous negotiations because they've been collected during a severe recession; 2) The owners, like the players, recognize the importance of avoiding a work stoppage so the NBA's growth in TV ratings and global popularity isn't stalled.

"We’re all kind of saying the same things at this point: Nobody wants a work stoppage or a lockout," Fisher said. "Let’s start working early to make sure we’re moving toward that. The conversations I’ve been a part of, that’s pretty much what it’s been. And All-Star weekend is a time where we really get the opportunity to kind of get into it, exchange proposals, exchange information, and really start to try to crack this thing open."

The NBA hasn't endured a work stoppage since the 1998 lockout, and the owners and players agreed to begin negotiations early on a new agreement that would begin with the 2011-12 season. Everything is on the table, from a new revenue sharing plan to help low-revenue teams, to the structure of the salary cap system, to the overall share of revenues that go to players and how teams hurt by lower attendance could be helped by other revenue streams. CBSSports.com reported last week that ticket revenues were down 7.4 percent league-wide through the first month of the regular season, yet the NBA has seen significant increases in national TV ratings and massive growth in its online and digital properties.

Category: NBA
Posted on: September 22, 2009 7:39 pm

Fisher: Replacement refs 'unacceptable'

Derek Fisher, the president of the NBA Players Association, has released a statement condemning the possible use of replacement referees.

This is a bold move, considering the union and league are scheduled to continue negotiations on their own collective bargaining agreement later this week in New York.

"I, along with the NBPA Executive Committee, unanimously endorse the quickest possible resolution to the negotiations between the National Basketball Referees Association and the NBA," Fisher, the Lakers' point guard, said in a statement released by the players' union. "Our referees are the best in the world at what they do and they deserve to be treated fairly.

"Players throughout the league are concerned that the use of replacement referees could compromise the integrity of our games," Fisher said. "Our fans deserve the best product that we can put on the court and that includes having the best referees. Anything less is unacceptable to our union and our members."

Category: NBA
Posted on: September 19, 2009 11:13 am

NBA sets replacement refs camp

The NBA has invited 45 replacement referees to a meeting in New York this week, the next step in the escalating showdown between the league and its locked-out referees.

According to an internal memo obtained by CBSSports.com, the replacement referees will meet in New York Sept. 24-27. Among the potential replacements invited to the meeting is Michael Henderson, the ref who was the focal point of a showdown between the officials' union and David Stern in 2004. Henderson was publicly reprimanded and suspended after an inadvertent whistle during a game between the Lakers and Nuggets. The mistake led to the Lakers' 112-111 win.

In a show of solidarity and support for Henderson, his fellow referees wore their jerseys inside-out with Henderson's No. 62 on the back. The protest was an early test of the referee union's strength early in the tenure of Lamell McMorris, the lead negotiator who is at odds with the league over proposed reductions in retirement benefits and other issues that prompted the NBA to impose a lockout on Friday.

After McMorris told CBSSports.com on Thursday that the 57 active refs would not attend the scheduled training camp in Jersey City, N.J., beginning Sunday, the NBA imposed the lockout on Friday and announced that it would reschedule the training camp with replacements. With preseason games scheduled to begin Oct. 1, the league faces the prospect of replacements refs working games for the first time since 1995.

Category: NBA
Posted on: September 18, 2009 5:47 pm

Refs: NBA management got raises during recession

At some point in the next month, it would seem logical that cooler heads will prevail, the sniping will stop, and the NBA and its referees will do what makes sense for both sides: End the lockout imposed Friday and agree on a new two-year contract. Until then, it's open season on animosity.

Lamell McMorris, the referees' lead negotiator, reacted angrily to the NBA's decision to cite the starting and senior salaries of referees in its news release Friday announcing that it will begin recruiting replacement referees.

"Did they put David Stern's salary in there?" McMorris told CBSSports.com. "Did they put Joe Borgia's raise, Ron Johnson's raise, and Bernie Fryer's raise?"

McMorris stated that Johnson, the NBA's senior vice president of referee operations, received a $50,000 raise this summer -- in the midst of the longest recession in decades -- plus a bonus for his work last season. Fryer, the vice president and director of officials, and Borgia, vice president of referee operations, each received a $25,000 raise and bonus, according to McMorris. The NBA declined to comment on McMorris' assertions and would not discuss the salaries of its employees. But clearly we have ourselves a good old fashioned case of class warfare and mudslinging on our hands.

If McMorris' assertions are true -- it isn't clear how he'd have access to such sensitive, internal information -- then it would seem to fly in the face of the league's argument that the referees should accept the same wide-ranging cost cuts that are occurring throughout the NBA. McMorris also took issue with the referee salary figures, taken from last season, that were publicized by the league Friday: $150,000 for entry-level refs and $550,000 for the most senior officials.

McMorris stated that the starting salary is $91,000 and that the only way a referee could make $550,000 would be to have upwards of 30 years experience and officiate the playoffs all the way through the NBA Finals. He placed the top salary for most senior refs in the $350,000 to $400,000 range and said the top figure cited by the league is no longer valid because it includes playoff money that the refs agreed to reduce in their latest proposal.

Despite the ugliness, McMorris said he is open to continuing negotiations while the 57 active officials are locked out.

"Our phone lines are open," McMorris said. "We're the ones who got kicked out of the meeting last week. We're not the ones who ended the call (Thursday). It's not on us."

But until the two sides cool off and get back to the negotiating table, it's on all of them.
Category: NBA
Tags: lockout, referees
Posted on: September 18, 2009 4:18 pm
Edited on: September 18, 2009 5:51 pm

NBA formally locks out referees (UPDATE)

The NBA formally notified the union representing its 57 active referees Friday that it was imposing a lockout, saying the rejection of its latest contract offer left "no choice but to begin using replacement referees."

Lamell McMorris, lead negotiator for the referees, told CBSSports.com that he received formal notice of the lockout from the league shortly after 3 p.m. ET. Replacement refs will convene next week for the annual training camp for officials, although the timing of the camp is undecided based on the logistical challenges of convening replacements.

If the NBA and its referees' union can't agree on a new two-year contract before Oct. 27, replacement referees will officiate regular season games for the first time since 1995.

UPDATE: After McMorris spent the past week making headlines with swipes at commissioner David Stern and the league's staunch negotiating stance, the league took some swings of its own in the memo distributed Friday to teams and the media. In addition to pointing out that the league agreed to negotiate an unusually short two-year agreement -- "so that the referees would be able to renegotiate as the economy improves" -- the NBA hit the refs where it will hurt most in the eyes of public opinion.

"Under the prior collective bargaining agreement, which expired on September 1, referees were awarded enhanced retirement bonuses of up to $575,000, on top of pension benefits that could exceed $2 million," the league's news release stated. "These retirement benefits, which the NBA has proposed to change, were in addition to compensation of almost $150,000 per year for entry level referees and over $550,000 per year for the most senior referees." League officials and negotiators clearly know that fans, who already have a negative impression of refs, will go through the roof when they read how much they make. Class Warfare 101.

“The proposals we have made to the NBRA are extraordinarily fair and reasonable, given the current economic circumstances,” said Rick Buchanan, the NBA’s executive vice president and general counsel. “Since late 2008, the league and our teams have made far deeper cuts in non-referee headcount and expenses than we are asking for here. It is extremely disappointing that the NBRA has ignored the economic realities, rejected our offer, and left us with no choice but to begin using replacement referees.”

UPDATE: The refs and McMorris convened in Chicago earlier this week and unanimously rejected the NBA's latest proposal. After the refs stayed in Chicago for a night-long strategy session, Buchanan rejected their counterproposal Thursday. The tenor of the negotiating conference call was bleak, according to sources, one of whom said both sides agreed: "We have nothing further to discuss."

But the league and the referees' union can't seem to agree on much else, including the exact issues they disagree on. McMorris cited only one issue as standing in the way of a deal, describing it as "systemic changes" to the refs' retirement benefits. Two sources with knowledge of the negotiations told CBSSports.com that the issue in question is a severance benefit that has been available to referees leaving their jobs at age 55 and older. The NBA wants to phase out that benefit, and has accused McMorris of agreeing to modifications more than a month ago and then reversing course.

League sources also have cited two additional roadblocks to a deal: An NBA plan to integrate WNBA and D-League officials into a limited number of early season games for evaluation and training purposes, and a proposal to convert the refs' traditional pensions to 401-Ks. League sources disagree with McMorris' assertion to CBSSports.com on Thursday that the refs have made $1 million in concessions and that the financial gap between the two sides has essentially been closed.

UPDATE: McMorris has stoked concern that extended use of replacement refs during the regular season could result in player injuries due to a lack of control by inexperienced officials. This theory has credence due to the league's rapid expansion of instant replay authority for officials -- presenting inexperienced refs with complicated review guidelines -- and also in light of frequent controversies during the 2009 playoffs over the threshold for flagrant fouls. During the Lakers' playoff series against Houston -- in which Ron Artest's flagrant foul against Pau Gasol became one of many such calls changed upon review by the league office -- Kobe Bryant called the interpretation of flagrants "so subjective, it's ridiculous. ... We've got to address that."

The refs picked up another unlikely supporter on Friday when Shaquille O'Neal voiced his support. Attending a charity event in Orlando, O'Neal told AOL Fanhouse: "The refs have been vital to this league for a long time. They should be treated accordingly. We need perfection out there. We don't need second best. The league needs to get this done.''

Category: NBA
Tags: lockout, NBA, referees
Posted on: September 15, 2009 1:14 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2009 3:41 pm

With lockout looming, NBA refs to meet (UPDATE)

NBA referees are scheduled to meet in Chicago on Wednesday to plot their next move as a potential lockout threatens to result in replacement refs officiating regular season games for the first time since 1995.

Sources familiar with the situation declined to comment on the status of negotiations with the league. But after several weeks of contentious talks and plenty of mudslinging, the referees are hunkering down with their lawyers for a crucial strategy session. The referees' collective bargaining agreement with the league expired Sept. 1, and talks on a new contract broke down last week.

They didn't just break down; they broke down with all the pomp and ceremony that are the hallmarks of a good, spirited labor negotiation. According to reports, commissioner David Stern abruptly walked out of a negotiating session on Sept. 8, effectively ending the talks. Lamell McMorris, lead negotiator for the referees' union, labeled Stern's conduct "unprofessional and disrespectful." Richard Buchanan, lead negotiator for the NBA, fired back in a statement in which he accused the referees of reneging on concessions that had been agreed to weeks earlier. Sources familiar with the talks reject the widely reported notion that the two sides are separated by a mere $700,000.

Will the league and its refs get it together before preseason games begin Oct. 1? Doesn't look that way. The referees' annual training camp in Jersey City, N.J., is scheduled to begin Sept. 20, and no additional negotiations are scheduled. In recent years, the refs and league have invited the media to the training camp in a joint effort to show what a good job they all do. Probably not such a good idea this time around.

UPDATE: McMorris and several of his referees had planned to speak publicly Wednesday in Chicago, a departure from their typically secretive existence. However, a person familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com that plans for the media availability have been scaled back to include only McMorris, who will brief reporters after the meeting. Depending on what McMorris' message is, the league may or may not feel compelled to fire back. There is plenty of time for this to get uglier before it gets resolved. And both sides must understand that it's in everyone's best interests to get it resolved. 

Category: NBA
Tags: lockout, referees
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