While the National Basketball Players Association continued a whirlwind tour of regional meetings in New York on Wednesday, there was little indication any of those meetings could bring them face-to-face with their employers anytime soon.
After union officials briefed about 10 players on the dismal state of collective bargaining talks at the NBPA headquarters in Harlem, union vice president Mo Evans said there were no immediate plans for a full bargaining session until perhaps after Labor Day.
UPDATE: There will, however, be a secretive meeting of only the highest-level negotiators for both sides next week, a person familiar with the meeting told CBSSports.com on Thursday. The session is expected to include only commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, union chief Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher. Also present could be Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the owners' labor relations committee. But no other players or owners are expected to be included, which could create an environment conducive to productive negotiation.
"We're looking forward to the owners re-engaging us after a couple of weeks of vacation," Evans told CBSSports.com by phone after landing in Chicago, where the NBPA will hold another regional meeting Thursday. "We're ready to negotiate. We're ready and we're available."
Each side, however, is endeavoring to prove otherwise before the National Labor Relations Board. Earlier this month, the NBA filed its own charge accusing the players of failing to bargain in good faith after the union accused the owners of the same back in May. There has been only one bargaining session involving all the key players from both sides since the owners imposed the lockout July 1.
"Even in that meeting we had, they didn't engage," Evans said. "In the proposals we've given them, the players have compromised over $650 million into the owners' pockets over six years. You say you're losing money, and we've offered over $100 million a year to take out of our pockets and they say, 'That's all? That's all? Just a modest $100 million a year?' That's just not bargaining in good faith. It's hard to get anything done that way."
The players have been flustered by Stern's public characterization of the owners' position in recent media appearances, and Evans said the purpose of the regional meetings is to "inform the players" of how Stern has been untruthful and "very inaccurate" in his portrayal of what the owners have proposed.
The NBA contends that the players' $100 million-a-year concession would result in the average player salary rising from its current level of about $5 million to $7 million by the end of the NBPA's six-year proposal and says the players actually are proposing slowing the growth of salaries by $100 million a year. With every dollar sign and zero, the fans' eyes glaze over.
"We're not so much frustrated," Evans said. "We're just not being impatient. Nothing's lost, nothing's jeopardized as of now. But we are eager to get this back on track. We're coming off a lot of record highs in terms of ratings and BRI, and the game is in such a good place. The NFL gets a 10-year deal, and I've been to some NFL (preseason) games and the fans are so excited. We owe that to our fans as well."
In meeting with players throughout the country -- more than 70 in Los Angeles and about 35 in Las Vegas last week -- Evans has heard a gathering insistence among NBPA members that they are willing to lose the entire season if that's what it takes to get a "fair deal," he said.
"The guys are willing to suck it up as long as we have to in order to stand up for what's right and protect what all the great players who've come before us have fought for," Evans said. "The Bill Russells, Michael Jordans, Larry Birds and Magic Johnsons have done great things to allow us to make the salaries we have and wear these great uniforms. It'd be a shame to give up everything those guys have fought for."
Reality dictates that neither side will give up anything until forced to do so. The only forces bearing down on these labor talks that could result in a change of heart are the players' unfair labor practices charge against the owners, which could result in a federal injunction lifting the lockout if successful, and the calendar itself. Sources on both sides understand that once the calendar flips to October, the currently distant threat of games being canceled becomes harsh reality.
"In the more than two years I've been associated with this, we've been in entire sessions on ways to increase revenues and improve the game," Evans said. "We've suggested all kinds of awesome ways that will create even more competitive balance and increase profitability. But that's not what they're interested in. The only thing they're interested in is the players taking a cut and increasing the owners' profits."