Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin says there is a "distinct possibility" some National Basketball Association teams might fold after this season. He also says a threatened strike April 2 by the NBA Players Association will not benefit anyone, and that he will do everything he can to avoid a walkout.
The league claims only seven teams made money last year, and that more than 10 are in financial difficulty. Pollin said in a telephone interview last week that something has to be done to ensure the NBA's stability.
"If any teams fold, and there is a distinct possibility that will happen, a lot of people will be in for some hardship and we want to make everything as painless as possible for everyone," said Pollin, who declined to identify teams that might go under. Indiana, Cleveland and San Diego are among teams reportedly in difficulty.
Pollin has declined to comment on his team's financial situation, although the Bullets are not believed to be in danger of folding. But they did not finished in the black last season. The teams believed to have made money are Los Angeles, Boston, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Portland, Phoenix and Philadelphia.
"I don't think a strike will solve any problems, but it's their (the players') prerogative," said Pollin, chairman of the NBA's labor negotiations committee. "They can do whatever they want. I was very disappointed when I heard of a strike, but they have the authority to do it if that's what they want. I hope it isn't.
"I don't think a strike would benefit anyone, the players, the teams, the league, the fans, anyone," Pollin added. "I'm an optimist, and if I weren't, I wouldn't still be in this crazy business at all. I plan to, and I will encourage all of us, to continue to negotiate in good faith."
"I think you might find some of our people are disappointed and might harden some of their positions," he said. "But I plan to continue to negotiate in good faith."
One of the most vocal owners is Sam Schulman of Seattle, who said Thursday he would welcome a strike because "it would enable us to return things to normalcy."
The contract expired last June 1, with negotiations continuing since.
In October, the league introduced a revenue sharing concept it calls the guaranteed compensation plan, similar to what the National Football League Players Association sought during its strike.
The NBA proposed limiting each team's payroll to approximately $4 million, while guaranteeing each team would spend at least $3 million. (Only three teams--Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Seattle--have a $4 million payroll this season. Indiana is believed to have the smallest, about $1.5 million.)
The league also would give players a fixed percentage of its gross revenues, to be distributed under a formula set by the union.
The players would be given a fixed percentage of cable television and network television money, gate receipts and program sales, and would be responsible for their own pensions and medical plans.
Pollin said that in a Jan. 24 meeting, Larry Fleisher, general counsel for the players' association, agreed to the concept of a guaranteed compensation plan and indicated that 57 percent of the gross was the figure he was considering.
"That was higher than the number we thought was right, but I told Fleisher personally that I was pleased with his response and the fact that we weren't far apart on the percentage and for the most part were agreeable.
"Then, on Jan. 31, Fleisher indicated he would consider 55 percent of the gross, and then came up with the idea that the plan shouldn't be implemented until four years from now, instead of right now, as we were planning it would.
"We were disappointed and taken aback, but we said we'd consider it and get back to him," said Pollin.
"In another meeting last Friday (Feb. 11) Fleisher again expressed his willingness to accept the concept, but in four years, and said he would consider other ways to help the league's financially troubled teams. We said we'd see what we could do. But then the next thing we hear is about a strike."
Fleisher's office in New York said he is unavailable until Monday. He said earlier in the week he wants the plan to start after the 1986-87 season because that is when the Oscar Robertson suit settlement that set up the current free-agent system expires.
"The owners are still demanding to take away virtually all of the benefits won by the players over 15 years of collective bargaining," Fleisher said at that time.
Pollin said the average salary in the NBA this season is $246,000, "and we pay an additional $20,000 a man in direct benefits and we've continued to pay everything under the last contract, even though it has expired."
Pollin said another meeting is scheduled to be held as soon as the logistics can be worked out.