For the second time in the past 13 years, the NBA will have a shortened regular season. With a deadline looming, negotiators for the league and its players’ union met for more than seven hours on Monday but were unable to reach an agreement, forcing NBA Commissioner David Stern to wipe out the first two weeks of the season.
“We remain very, very far apart on virtually all issues,” Stern told reporters in New York. “We just have a gulf that separates us. We are so far apart . . . we can’t close the gap.”
The cancellations include games originally scheduled from Nov. 1 through Nov. 14 and Stern said, “With every day that goes by, I think we need to look at further reductions on what’s left of the season.”
The league last lost games to a work stoppage in the 1998-99 season, which was reduced to 50 games.
Stern was doubtful about having all 82 games and expressed sadness about the decision, a sentiment echoed by Derek Fisher, president of the National Basketball Players Association and a guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. Said Fisher: “This is not where we choose to be. We’re not at a place where a fair deal can be reached with the NBA.”
No further meetings have been scheduled. The Washington Wizards will lose five games — three home games against New Jersey, Orlando and Chicago and two road games against Orlando and Miami. Refunds plus interest are available for NBA season ticket holders for all preseason and regular season games that are canceled.
When talks stalled last week, Stern canceled the rest of the preseason and threatened to eliminate the first two weeks if the two sides couldn’t come to terms on the framework of a new deal by Monday. They sat down for more than 12 hours over two days to address several of the concerns that led the owners to lock out the players on July 1. But they could not find common ground on division of revenues, the length of the collective bargaining agreement and such salary cap systems as contract length, percentage of annual raises on contracts and the luxury tax.
“Despite extensive efforts, we have not been able to reach a new agreement with the players’ union that allows all 30 teams to be able to compete for a championship while fairly compensating our players,” Adam Silver, the league’s deputy commissioner, said in a statement.
Stern; Silver; owners Peter Holt of San Antonio, Glen Taylor of Minnesota and James Dolan of New York; and Dan Rube, NBA senior vice president and deputy general counsel, met on Monday with Fisher; union executive director Billy Hunter; Maurice Evans, the players’ union vice president and a Wizards forward; and attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and Ron Klempner.
The biggest obstacle to reaching an agreement appeared to be how to split nearly $4 billion in basketball-related income. Players had moved down from the 57 percent they received in the last deal to 53 percent, while the league offered 47 percent. Stern informally mentioned the possibility of a 50-50 split, which led to the breakdown in talks last week.
The two sides avoided the revenue split on Monday but failed in their attempts to structure a new agreement from the ground up after reaching what Stern called “system hurdles.”
The owners want to reduce the annual mid-level salary cap exception for free agents from $5.8 million to $3 million, and limit the maximum length of contracts. But while Stern claimed that owners have moved away from their stance of establishing a hard salary cap, Fisher claimed that the league would create a system that provides a large enough luxury tax penalty to serve as a deterrent. “It’s still as close as you can get, if not a hard cap,” Fisher said.
With owners seeking dramatic changes to the old system, the union warned its players to prepare financially for the loss of the season, and Hunter felt that the league wanted players to start missing checks to make them feel the financial loss. Players are expected to receive their first paychecks on Nov. 15.
Silver estimated that the teams would lose hundreds of millions by losing the first two weeks of the season, and Hunter said the players would lose more than $350 million for every month that they lose games.
“I’m convinced that this is all just part of the plan,” Hunter said. “Unfortunately, maybe we need to miss a few games for them to know there’s resolve among the players.”
Said Stern, “We certainly hoped it would never come to this.”