The NBA and the players’ union met for more than 15 hours -- wrapping up discussions at 3:20 a.m. on Thursday -- and enough progress was made from the marathon negotiating session that both sides not only agreed to reconvene at 2 p.m. but also spoke afterward about the possibly salvaging an 82-game season.
National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter said that there is still a chance for a full season if a new collective bargaining agreement could be settled by the end of the weekend.
“I think it’s possible,” Hunter said. “It’s going to be somewhat stressful because of the need to do some back-to-backs, as we did in ‘98” when the last NBA lockout resulted in a 50-game season.
Los Angeles Lakers guard and union president Derek Fisher said the chances of a full season “may be slim” but admitted that the two sides were able to move closer on such system issues. They did not discuss the thorny topic of basketball-related income, which derailed discussions last week when the owners were unwilling to keep talking unless the players were willing to accept a 50-50 split of revenues.
NBA commissioner David Stern had the flu last week and missed those acrimonious talks – which caused federal mediator George Cohen to leave in disgust. Stern joked, “I leave these guys for a little bit of time and all hell breaks loose.”
Stern was back at the negotiations when they resumed Wednesday, joined by deputy commissioner Adam Silver, owners Peter Holt of San Antonio, Glen Taylor of Minnesota and James Dolan of New York, and a pair of attorneys. Hunter, Fisher, vice president and Wizards free agent Maurice Evans, attorney Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy represented the union. Stern didn’t want to quantify the progress that has been made but said the two sides they had “a solid day of negotiations…The energy in the room has been good; the back and forth has been good.”
The current NBA lockout has lasted 119 days and wiped out the first two weeks of the regular season, which Stern insisted was never the intent of the league. “It’s sad that we’ve missed two weeks, and we’re trying to apply a tourniquet and go forward,” Stern said.
Stern also agreed with Hunter and Fisher that having an 82-game season was possible if a deal is struck soon, but added that achieving that goal would be difficult for a number of reasons.
“I have given them the sense that we will knock ourselves out with them, consistent with what’s in the best interests of our fans and our players, in terms of a schedule, to try and schedule as many games as possible,” he said.
“If we can make a deal this week, whether that gets to be 82 games or not, it really depends on so many things that have to be checked. We’ve got building issues. We’ve got building issues versus hockey issues. We’ve got travel schedules. We’ve got all kinds of things that are difficult for us. We’ve got the sheer volume of games that might have to be compressed and the amount of back-to-backs that players could be asked to play. And really in terms of the number of games that fans could be asked in a given time to attend. So, these are all considerations that would be on the table and we are going to work on it with the union. We’re not putting specific date on it, but we feel we have to do it soon. If we could make a deal, obviously, we’re partnered with the union to have as many games as we can.”
Fisher refused to disclose specific details of the negotiations. “We can’t say that major progress was made in any way,” he said. “We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves at this point. We’ll continue to remain focused on some key, principle items in our system that have to remain there in order for our players to agree what is already a reduced system of BRI. So we’re making our decisions and thinking through things from that perspective. Obviously, it’s been a long day and night, but we’ll be back…at 2 and see where we can go from there.”
Hunter said the two sides agreed to “park” the issue of how to divide revenues, with the union moving down from the 57 percent it received in the previous deal to 52.5 percent. The players might be willing to go lower if there is a favorable system in place, he said.
Stern said it was best to keep the negotiations going forward. “I think we’ll turn to the split when we finish with the system. We might change, that’s the beauty of it. But right now, it has been profitable to turn to the system.”
Stern and Silver will talk with the league’slabor relations committee on Thursday morning to discuss how much the owners would be willing to give the players moving forward. Although he smiled, joked and appeared in a more cheerful mood than he has after previous meetings, Stern remained cautiously optimistic. “Both sides agree that until we have an overall deal we don’t have a deal on anything. Even in the course of a day, the parties change their negotiating position,” Stern said. “There is no deal on anything unless there is a deal on everything.”