NBA players have until the close of business on Wednesday to accept the latest proposal from the owners or risk receiving a significantly worse deal afterward. As of early Sunday morning, National Basketball Players Association president Derek Fisher and other representatives of the players’ union were unwilling to accept the deal, which would allow players to receive between 49 percent and 51 percent of revenues.
NBA commissioner David Stern said if the union maintains that position by the deadline, the league would issue an alternative proposal that would give players just 47 percent of basketball-related income and impose a “flex” salary cap. “Hope springs eternal, and we’d love to see the union accept the proposal on the table,” Stern said during a news conference in New York, refusing to call the offer an ultimatum.
Union attorney Jeff Kessler quickly scoffed at the deal and Fisher said the deal is so bad that the union couldn’t even present it to its membership for a vote. “It was a very frustrating, sad day,” Fisher said in a news conference. “We, for sure, unequivocally made good-faith efforts to try to get this deal done tonight. We’re at a loss as to why we couldn’t close it out.”
The league and union met with federal mediator George Cohen separately and together for nearly eight hours and appeared to move closer toward each other. The players submitted a proposal in which they would receive 51 percent of revenues -- a six percent drop from the previous deal and 1.5 percent drop from their offer last week, when talks crumbled and resulted in the cancellation of the first month of the regular season.
A person briefed on the negotiations said late Saturday that the sides were “very close” to a deal, but Fisher intimated that owners ended the meeting abruptly, making a offer that he deemed “not acceptable to us.”
“We did not get the sense that they had the intent coming into tonight to get this deal done,” he said. “There was every opportunity to do it. We were prepared to stay here until the sun came up to get this deal done.”
Stern said Cohen had submitted six ideas to help the two sides overcome their differences and the NBA used five of those recommendations in the proposal they presented the players. Fisher classified Cohen’s ideas as “what if” suggestions on basketball-related income and salary cap systems to gauge how much each side was willing to move.
Kessler described the offer as a deal that was closer to a 50-50 split, since the incentives required to give the players 51 percent were difficult to attain. The proposal forbids teams that pay the luxury tax from doing sign-and-trade deals; establishes the mid-level exception starting at $5 million, with contract lengths alternating from four years to three years ever other day; and creates a “mini” mid-level exception for teams above the luxury tax threshold that allows them to sign a free agent to a two-year, $5 million deal.
The union contends that the deal would make it difficult for high-spending teams to use their money on players. Kessler alleged that the ultimatum was an effort to “strong-arm” them.
“The players will not be intimidated,” Kessler told reporters. “It’s not happening. It’s not happening under Derek Fisher’s watch. It’s not happening under Billy Hunter’s watch. And it’s not happening under the watch of this executive committee… The story here is they want it all. They want a win, win, win, win. We wanted a compromise.”
Executive director Billy Hunter didn’t speak after union officials claimed that he was under the weather. The evening was very odd, as Stern spoke with reporters around 1:45 a.m. and Fisher offered his rebuttal 45 minutes later at around 1:30 a.m. because clocks moved back an hour at 2 a.m. for daylight’s savings time.
After the news conferences, Yahoo! Sports reported that some players would push forward to have a vote on decertifying the union. The union would only need 130 players to sign a petition in order to put it to a vote and they would have to wait 45 days until they can vote. If a majority elects to dissolve the union, it would then file an antitrust lawsuit in federal court against the NBA. The risk is that taking such a move in December could result in the loss of the season.
When asked if felt the players would eventually take the deal, an exasperated Stern replied, “I’m tired… I’m not going to make percentage guesses or anything like that. We want our players to play. We’d like to have a season. These are the terms upon which we’re prepared to gear up and get in as many games as possible.”