NBA cancels season’s 1st 2 weeks
The worst-case scenario from NBA labor talks that went into late last night came to fruition as commissioner David Stern canceled the first two weeks of the season after describing the sides as being a “gulf’’ apart.
The league’s owners and players association met for more than seven hours, the length of the meeting offering encouragement to fans, team officials, and players that progress was being made.
But despite hours of negotiations over the past two weeks, the sides came away unable to even develop a framework for a new collective bargaining agreement.
“The gap is so significant that we just can’t bridge it at this time,’’ Stern told reporters, who waited hours outside a New York hotel for the meeting to conclude. “[The sides are] very far apart on virtually all issues. We just have a gulf that separates us.’’
Six Celtics games have been wiped out, including the Nov. 2 home opener against the Cavaliers and home games against the Bobcats and Clippers on Nov. 9 and 11, respectively. Refunds are available for season ticket-holders, but the damage to the fans may be irrevocable after this development. Last Tuesday, Stern announced that if an agreement wasn’t reached by yesterday, he would be forced to cancel the first two weeks of the season. The sides separated after five hours of talks last week and appeared headed for an abbreviated schedule - especially when the league said it would only meet with the players if they agreed to a 50-50 split of basketball-related income.
Yesterday was a last-ditch effort to secure a full season. According to NBA.com, the sides tentatively agreed to terms on a new mid-level exception, which was a five-year deal for approximately $30 million under the old agreement.
Several NBA executives said the mid-level exception was not looked upon favorably by general managers because of the high number of players who failed to live up to those contracts. But that issue paled in comparison to others the sides have been haggling over the past two years.
The owners originally wanted a $45 million hard salary cap, with non-guaranteed contracts and rollbacks on current salaries. The NBPA maintained it never would agree to a hard, NHL-like salary cap and would not relent on current salaries.
Stern said last week that the owners suggested a retooled soft salary cap and removed their requirement of rollbacks and non-guaranteed contracts. But he also said the owners wanted a 50-50 split of BRI, which the union refused.
The NBPA received a 57 percent share in the previous CBA and six high-powered agents circulated a letter pleading for the players association to accept nothing less than a 52-48 split. According to the revenues from the previous CBA, one percentage point equaled approximately $40 million per season, meaning the sides are about $80 million to $120 million apart.
Both sides said that they battled yesterday over “system’’ issues such as contracts, revenue sharing, etc., and less about economic issues.
The Celtics already had their preseason schedule canceled, including home games Oct. 21 and 26.
NBPA executive director Billy Hunter canceled a meeting in Los Angeles yesterday with Stern, and both sides brought small groups, different than the large ones that met last week.
Players association president Derek Fisher reminded reporters that the players are locked out and not on strike.
“This is what we anticipated would probably happen. This is not where we choose to be,’’ he said. “And here we are. This is a big blow, obviously to our fans most importantly. They don’t have a voice in this fight but we hear them loud and clearly. We want to play basketball and we’re going to do the responsible thing and try our best to bring them basketball as soon as we possibly can.’’
Many players spent most of the day tweeting “LET US PLAY #standunited’’ on Twitter as a message to owners about their solidarity. There was a perception during the previous lockout in 1998 that veteran players, seeking to secure the final years of their careers, caved in to Stern’s demands and agreed to a substandard deal.
The NBPA, encouraged by players such as Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce of the Celtics, has promised to stand firm on its demands, even if it means missing games or the season. Now the latter appears to be a serious possibility after the sides couldn’t agree last night and have no meetings scheduled in the future.
In the aftermath of the ’98 lockout, the NBA squeezed a 50-game schedule into 2 1/2 months. It is uncertain whether Stern will wait until January before officially canceling the season.
“The last thing we wanted to do is miss games,’’ Hunter said. “But I’m sure the first two weeks of the season, that those days can be made up if we are in fact able to get a deal in the next two weeks.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.