Tag:David Stern
Posted on: October 27, 2011 5:15 am
Edited on: October 27, 2011 12:49 pm
 

Progress on system; 82 games still 'possible'

NEW YORK – After another marathon, 15-hour bargaining session that pushed past 3 a.m. ET Thursday, NBA and union negotiators emerged saying progress had been made -- and pointed to the possibility of not only avoiding the loss of more games, but recapturing those already canceled and having an 82-game season.

It’s beginning to look like time for push to come to shove and for the lockout, well into its fourth month, to have its best chance of coming to an end.

“This has been a very arduous and difficult day, and productive,” commissioner David Stern said after 4 a.m. in a conference room of a Manhattan luxury hotel. “(Thursday) is going to be just as arduous and difficult, if not more so. We hope that it can be as productive.”

The two sides are reconvening at 2 p.m., with National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter saying an 82-game season remains “possible” if a deal were reached by Sunday or Monday.

“We initially wanted to miss none,” Stern said. “It's sad that we've missed two weeks. We're trying to apply a tourniquet and go forward. That's always been our goal.”

But while the cataclysmic rhetoric that marked last Thursday’s breakdown in talks was gone and the focus was on saving games instead of losing more, officials on both sides cautioned not to draw substantial conclusions. While progress was made on several system issues – “small moves,” according to one source – the talks are back in the tenuous place where they’ve blown apart on several other occasions. Even if the complete menu of system issues can be resolved Thursday, the trouble in the past has come when the system has to be linked with the BRI split – or vice versa.

“I think depending on how much progress we make (Thursday), we’ll be in a better position to be more explanatory and definitive about the specifics of the deal,” Hunter said.

After the talks broke down last Thursday over the BRI split – with the owners offering a 50-50 split and the players seeking 52.5 percent – the two sides re-engaged almost immediately on Friday and continued talking through the weekend, Hunter said. The pressure was beginning to mount for both sides to avoid further cancellations and try to salvage the two weeks of games already canceled into a revamped, compressed schedule.

“If there was any hope of trying to recapture the lost games and be able to complete a full season of 82 games, then there had to be a way to get back and talk,” Hunter said.

The two sides discussed system issues exclusively Wednesday and into Thursday morning, not touching on the BRI split at all. One source warned, “They still haven’t gotten to the meat and potatoes.”

But the general feeling from both sides was that a level of determination to bridge the gap between the system proposals has reached a level of urgency not seen at any times during the two-plus years of negotiations. It is generally presumed that once the more difficult system issues – mainly the level and rates of a new, more punitive luxury tax system – are agreed upon, the economic negotiation would be easier to agree upon.

“A lot of the concessions or trades that you might be inclined to make have to have some connection to your understanding of what your ultimate number is,” Hunter said.

Fisher said there were “key principle items in our system that have to remain there in order for our players to agree to what is already a reduced percentage of BRI.”

The league and union negotiated in the small-group format that has yielded significant progress and less rhetoric in the past. Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, labor relations committee chairman Peter Holt of the Spurs, Board of Governors chairman Glen Taylor of the Timberwolves and Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan joined deputy general counsel Dan Rube and general counsel Richard Buchanan in representing the league. For the players, it was Hunter, Fisher, vice president Maurice Evans, general counsel Ron Klempner, attorney Yared Alula and economist Kevin Murphy.

League negotiators will convene via telephone with the rest of the owners on the labor relations committee prior to the 2 p.m. resumption in talks, but there will be no new parties in the room. Murphy, who has other obligations, will not be present for the union Thursday.

“There's no question that today was a better day than last Thursday,” Silver said. “I think it's too early, not just in the morning, but still in the negotiations to express confidence that we're at a deal. There's no question, though, that we did make progress on some significant issues.”

In a moment of pre-dawn levity after the second-longest bargaining session of the negotiations, Stern joked about the fact that he was not present last Thursday when the seemingly promising talks fell apart after an apparent “take-it-or-leave-it” ultimatum from Holt over proceeding with system negotiations only if the players accepted a 50-50 BRI split.

“It wasn't me,” Stern said. “I leave these guys alone for a little bit of time and all hell breaks loose.”

Could all hell break loose again? Sure; at this point, anything’s possible. But what was clear as the vacuums purred in the lobby and hotel staff began showing up for a new day’s work was this: The urgency to make a deal finally has arrived.
Posted on: October 27, 2011 4:44 am
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Posted on: October 18, 2011 9:31 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 9:58 am
 

On big day for NBA, why is the max so sacred?

NEW YORK – A few thoughts on a very important day for the NBA:

• What does it mean that commissioner David Stern is giving mediator George Cohen one day to solve all the league’s problems before breaking away for two days of Board of Governors meetings? On one hand, it’s unrealistic that Cohen and his colleague, Scot Beckenbaugh, could do in one day what Stern and Billy Hunter haven’t been able to do in two years. On the other, it creates a sense of urgency – without which nothing ever gets done in negotiations. “That’s David’s style,” one league executive said. “He likes deadlines.”

• There are rumblings in the agent community and among team executives that the hawkish position of the players’ association – its line in the sand at 53 percent and inflexibility over competitive aspects of the system – is a recipe for doom. “Sad to say, but I think (the owners) just want to sit the season out,” one prominent personnel man said. The involvement of superstars Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the negotiations two weeks ago shook some team executives who believed the two sides were on their way to a deal. “It baffles me that a union of 400 guys is fighting for one or two guys, whereas hundreds of guys are the ones taking the loss,” another team executive told CBSSports.com.

• Several executives fear that Hunter and union president Derek Fisher have been swayed by star players and their agents into taking a hard-line position that could be devastating to hundreds of rank-and-file players if the season were lost. “The thing that they’re fighting for right now is not the middle-of-the-road guy, and that's who you would think the union would be fighting for,” one of the executives said. “They’re fighting for the max guys right now or the max-to-be guys.”

• Longtime agent Steve Kauffman, a player agent during the 1998-99 lockout who now represents coaches and management executives, agrees that not enough time has been spent examining how much money and system flexibility could be freed up by reducing max contracts. “The deal is there to be made,” Kauffman said. “It's ridiculous. The main thing is, tell me what the max salaries are going to be. Because if you want to really help your union, who does the union represent? Whose interests are they protecting? If it's supposed to be everybody, then you've got to strike a balance.”

• Among the negotiating points that the league has said it’s conceded is the initial goal of curtailing the size and length of max contracts. Kauffman believes that’s gotten in the way of getting a deal. “You can make the argument that the stars deserve to be paid 75 or 80 percent of the payroll,” Kauffman said. “But if the max got a 15 percent cut, there would be more room to do those contracts that (the agents) are complaining they can't do. … The superstars are always going to get theirs through endorsements and other avenues.”

• Does this point about max salaries bear out in the math? A 15 percent reduction in future max salaries would represent only 1 percent of BRI annually – about $54 million based on the 21 players who currently make $15 million or more. But over a six-year deal, that’s roughly $325 million – the difference between a players’ share of 52 percent, which sources indicate the union would accept, and 51 percent, a figure that owners likely also would agree to. If the league’s biggest stars took a pay cut, or at least agreed that future max contracts would be reduced by 15 percent, the difference could easily be made up by giving those players a bigger share of licensing money, which currently is divided equally among the players regardless of whether you’re Kobe with millions in jersey sales or Sasha Vujacic, whose only jersey sale likely was transacted by his finance, Maria Sharapova.

UPDATE:

• Some small-market executives are fearful that the amnesty provision being negotiated will turn out to be only another advantage for big-market teams. The provision would allow teams to release an underperforming player and spread the money left on his contract over twice the years remaining, plus one, for cap purposes. One small-market GM envisions this provision being used by big-market teams to collect players cast off by small-market teams. "It's a great idea until Baron Davis goes to Miami," the GM said.

• Do not underestimate the owners' obsession with creating a competitive system that mimics the NFL, through whatever vehicle gets them there. 
"In the NFL, every team has a chance," one team executive said. "That's what makes it great, and we don't have that. We're like Euro League. Until we have revenue sharing and a hard cap, we not going to be a fair league." 

• One final note on the two weeks of games that have been canceled so far. Given reports that league scheduling guru Matt Winick is working on a host of contingency plans, including an 82-game schedule that would begin Dec. 1, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that those games are lost forever. Of importance Tuesday in the mediation session with Cohen is that those games could enter the equation as a valuable bargaining chip. If the two sides reach another impasse on the BRI split, they could be enticed to move closer by getting back the $200 million each side “lost” when those games were canceled.

Posted on: October 17, 2011 9:09 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2011 9:50 pm
 

NBA, union meet with federal mediator

NEW YORK -- Federal mediator George Cohen met separately with executives and legal staff from both the NBA and its players' association Monday, a prelude to a crucial bargaining session he will oversee with time running out to avoid losing a subtantial portion of the season to the lockout.

Cohen, director of the federal mediation and conciliation service, and deputy director Scot Beckenbaugh met with NBPA executive director Billy Hunter and legal staff for about 2 1-2 hours at the union's headquarters in Harlem. Sources also confirmed that league executives and lawyers met with the mediators at NBA headquarters.

The separate meetings set the stage for a bargaining session Tuesday in Manhattan under the supervision of Cohen, a respected presidental appointee and the top federal mediator in the country. During appearances on various media outlets late last week, commissioner David Stern said if the two sides weren't close to a deal by the time his owners convened in New York for meetings Wednesday and Thursday, his "gut" feeling was that games eventually would be canceled through Christmas.

 "I really think David wants to go present his owners with something on Wednesday," a person familiar with the process told CBSSports.com.

On Wednesday, the league's planning committee -- headed by Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck -- is expected to present a revenue sharing plan to the full Board of Governors. The labor relations committee, headed by Spurs owner Peter Holt, will report on the progress -- or lack thereof -- on negotiations with the players. The issues of revenue sharing and collective bargaining have always gone hand-in-hand, and they will be inexorably linked this week in New York.

If there is no collective bargaining agreement soon, there will be no revenue to share.
Posted on: October 13, 2011 5:49 pm
Edited on: October 13, 2011 11:18 pm
 

Stern: Deal or despair by Tuesday


NEW YORK -- Setting another arbitrary deadline for more lost games, NBA commissioner David Stern said that without an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement by Tuesday, he fears there will be no games on Christmas Day.

"It's time to make the deal," Stern said, speaking deliberately and threateningly Wednesday in an interview on New York's WFAN radio. "If we don't make it on Tuesday, my gut -- this is not in my official capacity of canceling games -- but my gut is that we won't be playing on Christmas Day."

Tuesday is the day the league and players' association will meet with federal mediator George Cohen in an attempt to resolve their differences before more games are canceled.

"Deal Tuesday, or we potentially spiral into situations where the worsening offers on both sides make it even harder for the parties to make a deal," Stern said.

Stern confirmed that negotiating committees for the league and National Basketball Players Association will meet separately with Cohen on Monday and then will convene for a bargaining session under Cohen's supervision Tuesday. Why the deadline? Stern's Board of Governors is scheduled to meet in New York Wednesday and Thursday -- first for the planning committee to present its revenue sharing plan and then for a full board meeting.

Asked when more games could be imperiled after he canceled the first two weeks on Monday, Stern said, "I don't have a date here sitting at my desk. But if we don't have a deal by the time the owners are in, then what's the purpose of us sitting around staring at each other on the same issues?"

Sources familiar with the mediation process told CBSSports.com that Cohen at first wanted to hold bargaining sessions at his Washington, D.C., office beginning Tuesday and continuing for the rest of the week. With owners headed to New York for the board meetings Wednesday and Thursday, that wasn't possible.

"We have owners meetings Wednesday and Thursday," Stern said later in another interview on NBA TV. "Each side’s going to meet with the mediator on Monday, and if there’s a breakthrough, it’s going to come on Tuesday. If not, I think that the season, you know, is really going to potentially escape from us because we aren’t making any progress."

Pressed by interviewer David Aldridge, Stern said, "How many times does it pay to keep meeting, and have the same things thrown back at you? We’re ready to sit down and make a deal, and I don’t think the union is. But hopefully on Tuesday, aided by the mediator, they’ll be ready to make a deal. And certainly, I’ll bring my owners ready to make a deal. Unlike Billy Hunter, you’ve never heard me say something is a 'blood issue.'"

Hunter, who appeared Wednesday on WFAN -- the nation's largest sports talk station -- was traveling Thursday to Los Angeles, where he will meet with players Friday to update them on the bargaining status.

In a work stoppage known more for catch phrases and YouTube moments than compromise, this will go down as Stern's "Grinch" moment. Placing that much importance on the first sit-down bargaining session with a mediator who has no binding authority felt like a negotiating tactic more than a realistic deadline or threat.

But in responding to assertions made a day earlier on WFAN by union chief Billy Hunter, Stern did by far his most effective, convincing job yet of laying out the owners' vision for a new system that would shrink payroll disparity and enhance competitive balance in a new CBA.

In meticulous, lawyerly fashion, Stern skewered the union's bargaining stance on the key system issues standing in the way of a deal -- the type of cap system and contract length. He also took Hunter to task for his characterization of a 50-50 split of revenues that had been discussed in informal side meetings during a key bargaining session on Oct. 4 -- calling it an idea first broached by the players and saying Hunter's characterization of it "caused my head almost to explode."

"The first time 50 percent was uttered was several weeks earlier, by the players' negotiator (Jeffrey Kessler), who said it's not an offer, it's a concept," Stern said. "He said it's a concept if everything else stays the same. And we said, 'No, no, no, no.'"

Stern said when each side was in its respective room during the Oct. 4 session, there was a knock on the door. 

"It was Derek Fisher, the president of the union, and Jeff Kessler, the lead negotiator, who probably does 70 percent of the talking for the union," Stern said. "And they asked us to come out into the hall, where I went with Peter Holt, the head of the labor relations committee, and Adam Silver, who's really our lead negotiator.

"Without trying to pin it on anybody in particular, all the parties to that conversation agreed that we would go back to our respective rooms and each promised to try to sell a 50-50 split," Stern said. "We were in the process of selling it, and there was a knock on our door. Kessler and Derek Fisher asked us to come into a room where they were with three other players -- not Billy -- and they said, 'We can't do it. We can't sell it.' And we said, OK, we get it.' Now it strikes me as strange that the union and the chief negotiator are being left out there because Billy wasn't in the room? I'm sorry."

Union sources have given a different account of the side discussions, saying the league at one point offered to try to sell a band of 49-51 percent for the players, while the players countered with a band of 51-53 percent.

"It was actually a union-initiated proposal, and it didn't fly, OK?" Stern said. "But Billy's ... you may have to have both of us in tomorrow with lie detectors."

In any event, Stern now considers the two sides to be six percentage points apart on the split of BRI, with the players asking for 53 percent -- a $1 billion concession over six years from their previous guarantee of 57 percent -- and the owners offering 47 percent. Stern made it clear that he believes the economic deal to be made is 50-50.

"When one side is at 53 and the other side is at 47, you have an idea of where this is going, OK?" Stern said.

While Stern's motivation to put another threat of canceled games out there was clear -- negotiating leverage -- it's unclear why he waited this long to give a thorough, persuasive summary of the system changes owners are seeking. 

"If you live in a market where you have a perception as a fan that it's only open to the rich teams to have the best players, then you're starting out in a bad place," Stern said.

On negotiations over the type of cap system, Stern said, "We proposed to the players that every team have the same amount available (to spend). That's what the NFL has. And the union said, 'No way. That's a blood issue.' So we said, 'All right, all right, you know, good ol' softees that the owners are, how about the flex cap like NHL has, where you agree upon a band between $52 million and $68 million -- because you can compress the difference? And they said, 'Blood issue. That's still a hard cap at the high end. Why don't you propose a punitive tax?' We said, 'OK, we'll propose a punitive tax.' And we did."

Stern described in detail how the owners' latest luxury tax proposal would work: It would tax teams $1.75 for every dollar of the first $5 million over the tax threshold, with 50 cents added for each additional $5 million. So a team spending $20 million over the tax would be charged $65 million, compared to the $20 million it cost under the dollar-for-dollar tax system in the previous CBA. The players on Monday rejected the owners' luxury tax plan because it was so punitive, it would effectively serve as a hard salary cap.

The league also wanted to impose even stiffer penalties for teams that failed to come out of the luxury tax after a period of time -- repeat offenders, so to speak. 

"We really have been reaching for the union here," Stern said. "... If anyone thinks we wanted to miss a single game, they are wrong."

UPDATE: In the NBA TV interview, Stern asserted that near the end of Monday's bargaining session, the union's tax proposal worsened from a $12.5 million tax on $10 million to $11 million.

"It was clear that they weren't ready to make a deal," Stern said. "And we didn’t know what else to do."

Stern didn't mention the aspect of the league's proposal that would forbid tax-paying teams from using the Bird exception to retain their own free agents, but did reveal that the league proposed a so-called "Super Bird" exception whereby teams could re-sign one designated free agent for a maximum of five years. Other contract lengths would be capped at four and three years under the league's proposal. Previously contracts could be no longer than six years for free agents who stayed with their teams and five years for those who left. The union has offered to cap contract lengths at five and four years, respectively.

"I was a participant in developing the Bird exception in 1983, so it doesn't break my heart to see it continued," Stern said. "But frankly, our owners went into this thinking that it was better to eliminate it so that teams could only keep certain players and the rest would be available to other teams."
 
Stern's spin on the league dropping its insistence on eliminating guaranteed contracts and rolling back existing ones was that, "We were anxious to save the season and make a deal." While the provision forbidding tax-payers from retaining Bird free agents would result in many of those players leaving their teams -- which is exactly what the exception was created to prevent -- he said the Super Bird provision would be "better for the players."

"The very good players will keep getting raises and new contracts, and the others, the money that becomes available by the expiration of the four- and three-year contracts will be available to the performers," Stern said. "That's what we call pay-for-performance. The union is not in accord with our view. They want longer contracts."

The luxury tax penalties and contract lengths will be the two most divisive issues when the parties meet with the federal mediator next week, Stern said.

"We really want the union and us to explain ourselves to a federal mediator," Stern said. "It may be that in the act of explaining, we will get a better reality check -- maybe of our proposals and our willingness, I accept that -- and maybe of the union's. We'll just see how that works out. So that's why, in some measure, both sides embrace the arbitrator."



Posted on: October 10, 2011 11:08 pm
Edited on: October 11, 2011 1:15 am
 

Stern cancels two weeks over labor impasse

NEW YORK -- Citing an impasse with the players' association over matters that seemed trivial entering the home stretch of negotiations, David Stern announced Monday night the cancellation of regular season games for the second time in his more than a quarter century as commissioner.

Stern canceled the first two weeks of the regular season after more than 13 hours of bargaining over two days with the National Basketball Players Association left the two sides "very, very far apart on virtually all issues."

"I'm sorry to report, particularly for the thousands of people that depend on our industry for their livlihood, that the first two weeks of the season have been canceled," Stern said.

Asked if there was no chance of having an 82-game season, Stern said, "Yes, I think that's right. And every day that goes by, we need to look at further reductions in what's left in the season."

The biggest issue that separated the parties in negotiations that began in earnest with the owners' initial proposal in January 2010 -- the split of revenues -- was not the tipping point that led to the cancellation. It was system issues -- luxury tax, contract length, length of the CBA, annual raises, and the like -- meaning that both sides will miss games over details neither imagined they would.

"I'm convinced this was all just part of the plan," said Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.

Indeed, a person involved in the negotiations told CBSSports.com that the cancellation seemed "pre-ordained."

"This could have been solved so easily, with any amount of effort," the person said.

Indeed, the two sides engaged in a flurry of lengthy talks over the past two weeks, culminating with six hours Sunday night and seven hours on Monday -- all dealing with system issues with no sunstantive discussion of the split of basketball-related income. Speaking on the sidewalk outside the Upper East Side hotel where negotiations took place, Stern delivered a laundry list of items that league negotiators found most objectionable about the players' proposals: contract length, length of the CBA, use of exceptions by tax-paying teams, the tax levels and what deputy commissioner Adam Silver described as the "frequency of the tax."

The latter point, according to a union source, apparently was in reference to the owners desire to punish teams that repeatedly spend over new luxury-tax thresholds in order to prevent "runaway teams" in big markets from maintaining an unfair competitive advantage over small-market teams.

Such negotiating points seemed minor heading into the final push to save regular season games, given that last Tuesday, the two sides had shaved about $1.6 billion off the economic gap that separated them. Few observers or participants in the talks expected games to be lost over technical deal points -- the likes of which could've been agreed upon and written up by low-level attorneys working at home on the weekend while players reported for training camps.

But Stern characterized the distance between the sides as "a gulf," and added, "We just can't get over the system hurdles."

"It makes no sense for us to operate under the current model, where taxpayers ... have a huge advantage over other teams," Silver said.

Unsurprisingly, each side had a different view of the others' vision of the system they were negotiating to achieve. According to a union source, the players agreed to concessions on contract length -- reducing them from five- and six-year deals in the previous CBA to five- and four-year deals -- and offered to lower the mid-level exception from its previous level of about $5.8 million to $5 million. The source said league negotiators were insisting on a reduction in the mid-level to $3 million a year.

Not mundane enough for you? Other aspects of the impasse included annual raises. The players offered to reduce them from 10.5 percent and 8 percent for "Larry Bird" free agents under the previous deal to 10.5 percent and 9 percent for Bird free agents and 8 percent and 7 percent for other players. Hunter said owners wanted to forbid tax-paying teams from using the Bird exception, meaning they would need to have cap space to retain one of their Bird free agents.

The totality of the owners' system offers -- including a more punitive luxury-tax model that would increase to as much as 4-1 and beyond for repeat offenders -- would have the same effects as a hard salary cap, Hunter said.

"My attitude is, if it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck and it looks like a duck, it's a duck," Hunter said. "... We came up with proposals to stiffen the tax, but we do not want a hard cap. You can't say, 'OK, we agree we're going to move away from a hard cap,' but then do everything else that brings about the same result."

Stern maintained that the owners' latest proposals did not include a hard team salary cap, and also would allow players to retain guaranteed contracts and would not roll back existing contracts.

"We tried awfully hard," Stern said. "We made, in our view, concession after concession."

Stern predicted that the economic loss from canceling games would cause the league's negotiating position to harden because "we have to account for the losses that we are incurring." He stopped short of saying the entire season is in jeopardy, but added that further cancellations would be dealt with in two-week increments.

"I don't know that the season is in jeopardy," Hunter said. "I think it would be foolish for them to kill the season. We're coming off the best season in the history of the NBA, and I'm not so sure in this kind of economy if there is a protracted lockout whether the league will recover."



Posted on: October 10, 2011 11:49 am
 

Without deal, apathy is right around the corner

NEW YORK – We have reached the point of few words and fewer clues as to how and when the NBA lockout will end. One of three things will happen Monday, in no particular order of likelihood:

1) The two sides emerge, say nothing again, and announce that they’re going to continue meeting. A short time later, the first two weeks of the regular season are postponed, rather than canceled, with the possibility that the games could be squeezed in or the season compressed if a deal is reached by Friday.

2) David Stern appears on the sidewalk – in the daylight hours this time – and announces that, unfortunately, the league was unable to reach an agreement with the players and he has no choice but to cancel the first two weeks of the regular season.

3) Stern and union director Billy Hunter emerge together and announce a deal in principle on a new collective bargaining agreement, starting a race against time to get the details ironed out and deal ratified so the season can start on time.

The list of agenda items that stand between here and any of those outcomes is longer than Kevin Durant’s wingspan.

For the second time in recent weeks, the two sides dropped all discussion of the elephant in the room – the BRI split – and focused on system issues only Sunday in a hastily called bargaining session. The last time this happened, the league and union negotiators made little tangible progress on the system issues, and when they returned to the BRI split this past Tuesday, they could not close the gap from the 53 percent the players were offering to the 50 percent where owners had dug in.

Now, while sources say agreement is within reach on adjustments to spending exceptions like the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, a major sticking point is a punitive, laddered luxury tax that players fear will effectively serve as a hard salary cap. When the two sides reconvene at 2 p.m. ET in Manhattan, the job at hand will be monumental: somehow marrying the system issues that remain hotly contested with the BRI split, which is contested at something akin to inferno levels.

What’s most puzzling about how the negotiators got to this point – with no deal and regular season games scheduled to be scrapped by the end of the day – is that in mid-September, Stern acknowledged that the two sides were “on the road” to an agreement on the economics. At that point, the players were believed to have been offering to receive a 54 percent share of BRI – already a $1 billion concession over six years in an effort to address the owners’ stated annual losses of $300 million – while signaling a willingness to make another economic move conditioned on key system aspects remaining intact.

Days later, the owners on Sept. 22 increased their proposed players’ share of BRI from 44 percent to 46 percent on average over the life of a 10-year proposal. The owners inched upward from there in subsequent negotiations – to 48 percent and finally to 50 percent this past Tuesday – while the players made another move to 53 percent, marking roughly equivalent $1.3 billion concessions for each side.

As we learned after Tuesday’s crucial bargaining session, the two sides weren’t exactly stuck at 53 and 50, respectively, for the players. In a small side conference as the talks entered crunch time Tuesday, the owners offered a 49-51 percent range for the players’ share, while the players countered with 51-53. That’s where it ended, and no further negotiations on the BRI split occurred Sunday night.

The impasse leaves open the maddening question: If the two sides were “on the road” to an agreement on the economics in mid-September when the spread was 46-54, how could they be so far apart after the gap was shaved by $1.6 billion this past Tuesday – with the difference between the midpoint of each side’s BRI band being reduced to a mere 2 percentage points (52-50)?

The answer can likely be found in a couple of crucial areas. For one, small-market owners may have dug in hard on the BRI split, insisting they cannot accept a deal in which the teams receive less than 50 percent of revenues without substantially addressing system issues they believe put them at a competitive disadvantage compared to high-revenue, big-spending teams. Second, to the extent that the division of revenues is inexorably linked to the system that determines how the players’ share is delivered, the players could find themselves in a quid-pro-quo position: If they want the system mostly intact, then 50 percent is the best offer they’re going to see. For room to exist for further negotiation on the split, the owners need system adjustments they believe will enhance competitive balance and give teams the flexibility they need to get out from under bad contracts and keep star players from bolting for bigger markets.

All of these moving parts must somehow be tied together Monday – or realistically, by Friday, as long as enough progress and momentum exist. If not, the NBA faces the slippery, dangerous slope of canceled games – which would lead to economic losses each side would then try to recoup in further negotiations, which would lead to more canceled games and, essentially, the Armageddon both sides recognized would be a possibility when the lockout was imposed July.

As Stern said that day, these things tend to take on a life of their own.

Stern was a man of exasperated expressions and few words Sunday night. Though the real 11th hour could be weeks or even months away – the deadline to cancel the entire 1998-99 season wasn’t until Jan. 7, and a deal was reached with hours to spare – Stern may sense that the public tolerance for this lockout is waning and waning fast.

There was no Twitter, no 60-second news cycle, no All-Star charity games streaming online in ’99. Collective bargaining negotiations in sports are excruciating -- not nearly as conducive to the way fans connect and follow the sport as the sport itself is. People want answers, a resolution, and their tolerance in the 60-second news cycle for the glacial, painful manner in which billions are divided is running out – and will be on empty soon.

People were ready to move on from the NBA in ’99, and the damage from the lockout was incalculable. To the contrary, people now want to embrace the NBA and the product and storylines it offers in the ever-more crowded landscape and crackling news cycle of sports.

But this stuff? This bickering over billions? People are ready to move on from it, go find the next story, the new trending topic, something – anything – more interesting and satisfying. And Stern knows they will find it, thus transforming his sidewalk statements into trees falling in the forest with no one around to hear.

Stern and his players have reached the point of few words, all right. If they don’t find the point of many solutions soon, those words and the whole sport will fall on deaf ears.
Posted on: October 10, 2011 12:25 am
Edited on: October 10, 2011 3:10 am
 

NBA labor talks extend to Monday

NEW YORK -- Facing a deadline for the cancellation of regular season games, negotiators for the NBA and its players' association met for nearly 5 1-2 hours Sunday night and will reconvene Monday afternoon for more bargaining.

Commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver emerged from the Upper East Side hotel where negotiations took place at 11:50 p.m. ET, and Stern issued a brief statement before walking away.

"We don't have any comment at all, other than we are breaking for the night and reconvening tomorrow afternoon," Stern said.

Stern has said he will cancel the first two weeks of the regular season if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't agreed to by Monday. He did not address the cancellation deadline in his statement, and a person with knowledge of the talks said both sides agreed it would not be addressed with reporters.

"We're not necessarily any closer than we were going into tonight," union president Derek Fisher said. "But we'll back at it tomorrow and we'll keep putting time in."

According to a person briefed on the talks, the primary focus Sunday night was system issues -- salary cap, luxury tax, etc. -- leaving Monday to reconcile those complicated items with the most important point of all: the split of revenues between owners and players. Fisher characterized the meeting as "intense."

"We're going to come back at it tomorrow afternoon and continue to try and put the time in and see if we can get closer to getting a deal done," Fisher said.

The last-minute meeting was called after league and union officials originally couldn't agree on the parameters of one final bargaining session to save regular season games. On Friday, officials from the National Basketball Players Association requested a meeting, but were met with a precondition from the league that they agree to a 50-50 split of revenues that was offered in Tuesday's bargaining session. The union declined, and scheduled regional meetings for Miami on Saturday and Los Angeles on Monday.

NBPA executive director Billy Hunter did not travel to Miami, and an impromptu players' meeting was held after the All-Star charity game at Florida International University featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Chris Paul and other stars. Fisher said the regional meeting for L.A. on Monday was postponed so union officials could concentrate on bargaining.

"Our guys would want our time to be used in meeting and trying to get closer to getting a deal done," Fisher said. "So instead of going forward with that (Los Angeles) meeting, we're going to put it off and then we'll reschedule it accordingly, depending on what happens tomorrow and into the week if we continue to meet."

Silver arrived at 5:10 p.m. ET, climbed out of a black sedan and greeted league security personnel with a smile and handshake. Union chief Hunter and general counsel Ron Klempner arrived at 5:30, followed closely by union VP Maurice Evans, who stepped out of a yellow taxi moments later. The three greeted Fisher, the union president, when he arrived in a black SUV at about 5:50, and the players' contingent stayed on the sidewalk and talked for about 25 minutes. NBPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler arrived, followed by Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, the chairman of the Board of Governors, and Spurs owner Peter Holt, chairman of the labor relations committee. The meeting started around 6:30 p.m.

Heading into the weekend, the players' were entrenched in their desire for 53 percent of basketball-related income (BRI), while the owners were stuck on offering the players 50 percent. The split under the six-year agreement that expired July 1 was 57 percent for the players and 43 percent for the owners.

From the standpoint of negotiating leverage, psychology and feeling the need to follow through on their threats, both sides seem willing to sacrifice the first two weeks of the regular season -- possibly more -- to get a deal. But from the standpoint of math and what's at stake economically by failing to reach an agreement by Monday, it is clear that a deal would be more advantageous to both sides than digging in.

The last movement of Tuesday's negotiations indicated that there was room on both sides to move beyond their respective positions on BRI. The league offered a 49-51 range for the players, who countered with a 51-53 range. Both offers occurred during informal side conferences involving Stern, Silver, Holt, Fisher, Kessler, and superstars Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

If you look at it from the midpoint of each side's range in their most recent offers -- 50 percent and 52 percent, respectively -- they are only $80 million apart in the first year of a new CBA. Each side would lose about $200 million by canceling the first two weeks of games. A rational split of 51.5 percent for the players and 48.5 percent for the owners -- with most of the system issues remaining the same, as the players want --would address most of the owners' stated annual losses of $300 million and preserve the flexibility the players wanted to maintain from the existing system.

By holding out for 1.5 percent of BRI -- the owners at 50 percent and the players at 53 -- each side would be drawing a line in the sand over less than $400 million -- $393 million, to be exact -- over six years. And each side would lose half that amount by canceling the first two weeks of games. In the simpler, shorter-term horizon of the first year of a new CBA, each side failing to move 1.5 percent to the 51.5-48.5 split would cost it $200 million compared to the $60 million that would be negotiated away by making the concession.
 
 
 
 
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