The NBA players’ union has demonstrated its solidarity by sending big-name players — and lots of them — to bargaining sessions at the last two all-star games. Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers has been heavily involved as the union president; James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and many others have also participated in talks. But little progress has been made over the past year.
The sides are split not only over how to divvy up money to the players, but how much of the total revenue the players should receive. Players, whose $5 million average salary is the highest in U.S. professional sports, want to maintain the 57 percent of the basketball revenues that they currently receive; the league wants to shrink that number to closer to 43 percent by taking more money off of the top to cover certain expenses and splitting the rest in half.
The owners also have argued since making their first and only proposal in January 2010, that the game would prosper — and everyone would benefit — if they adopted an NFL-style hard salary cap on individual teams. The NBA, like Major League Baseball, currently has a soft cap, which allows teams to exceed it in special cases but imposes a financial penalty called a luxury tax if they surpass a certain threshold; that money is redistributed to small-market teams.
The owners, who say large-market owners will always be willing to exceed a soft cap, claim a hard cap would increase competitiveness and allow small-market teams to compete for championships. The players say a hard cap would effectively eliminate the guaranteed contracts and longer-term contracts that currently populate the NBA, while suppressing salaries for marquee players, wiping out the NBA’s middle class and pushing everyone else to the bottom.
“We’re not receptive,” Hunter said, “to a hard cap.”
A move to share revenue
There is one area, Hunter said, in which the players would embrace an NFL-like system: In revenue sharing. Unlike in the NFL, NBA teams negotiate local television deals, which are not shared, on top of a national television deal that is shared. And unlike in the NFL, in which teams share 40 percent of gate revenue, NBA teams keep their gate receipts. “They want to move to an NFL model as it relates to a hard cap, but they do not want to adopt an NFL revenue sharing model,” Hunter said.
Stern and Silver said revenue sharing was indeed a major topic at the recent board of governors meetings and NBA owners are committed to developing and implementing a new plan. Hunter said the players want to know precisely what that plan is. In any case, Stern said, revenue sharing won’t eradicate all the league’s financial problems.