“The reason for the settlement was we’ve got fans, we’ve got players who would like to play and we’ve got others who are dependent on us,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said. “And it’s always been our goal to reach a deal that was fair to both sides and get us playing as soon as possible, but that took a little time.”
The NBA played just 50 games during a lockout-shortened campaign in 1998-99, but Stern had no interest in repeating the mistakes of the past or in following the lead of the National Hockey League, which canceled the 2004-05 season when its owners and players failed to come to terms on a deal. The NBA will now have a schedule with 16 fewer games than a normal 82-game regular season.
“We thought it was in both of our interests to try to reach a resolution and save the game,” said Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.
After nearly five months of often-contentious negotiations that eventually prompted the players to disband their union and file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA, the two sides finally agreed to a deal that would allow players to receive a 49 to 51 percent “band” of basketball-related income, which would be linked to league profitability. The players received 57 percent last year, a concession that will give back nearly $3 billion to the owners over the length of the deal. Owners received a harsher salary cap system that punishes high-spending teams.
Smaller details within the tentative agreement still need to be hashed out, and both sides are prohibited from publicly disclosing them given the sensitive nature of the on-going litigation. The deal would then need to be approved by 15 of the 29 owners (the NBA owns the New Orleans Hornets). The players also would have to dismiss their antitrust lawsuit in Minnesota, reconstruct the union and pass the deal by a majority vote of its 430-plus members.
Stern said he doesn’t expect unanimous support but anticipates that both sides will endorse the deal. Players and owners both have the right to opt out of the 10-year agreement in six years.
“The best deals are the ones that no one is 100 percent happy with,” one high-ranking NBA executive said, on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to comment publicly on the agreement.
The NBA was in serious of jeopardy of losing the season on Nov. 14, when the players union rejected a take-it-or-leave-it offer from the league, filed a disclaimer of interest to take the league to court and Stern declared that the NBA was headed for a “nuclear winter.” The legal maneuver would either create leverage in an out-of-court settlement or place the league in danger of paying out triple damages for a lost season — almost $6 billion, based on $2 billion in salaries.