The first two weeks of the 2011-12 NBA season are now in jeopardy after owners and players met for more than four hours on Tuesday in New York and promptly broke off negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement that would end the lockout.
NBA Commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver announced the cancellation of the final 114 preseason games and set Monday as the deadline to save the start of the regular season. But the possibility that the league will lose regular season games for the first time since the lockout-shortened season in 1998-99 became more likely when the NBA and the players’ union failed to come closer on an agreement and left the meeting without scheduling another bargaining session.
“We were not able to make the progress that we hoped we could make and we were not able to continue the negotiations,” Stern told reporters in a news conference. “We gave it a real good run and it didn’t work.”
Stern said the league would lose nearly $200 million from wiping out the exhibition season and would take an “extraordinary hit” once regular season games were lost.
National Basketball Players Association president Derek Fisher predicted the day before that Tuesday’s meeting would be “huge” with regards to saving an 82-game season but told reporters that it “was not the day for us to get this done.”
“We were not able to get close enough to close the gap,” Fisher said. “We find ourselves where we expected to be: a lockout that may jeopardize a part, or our whole season.”
Union executive director Billy Hunter was asked when the owners and players might convene again and replied: “Maybe a month. Two months. Your guess is as good as mine.”
The NBA has locked out its players since July 1 and already postponed training camp and canceled 43 preseason games last month. Training camps were originally supposed to start this week, with preseason games beginning on Sunday. The two sides had met for nearly 20 hours in the past week only to separate without being closer to a deal.
Stern said that the owners had backed off their previous demand for a hard salary cap — which Hunter had described as a “blood issue” for the union — but discussions broke down on Tuesday when the owners and players again failed to agree on how it would split nearly $4 billion in basketball-related income.
Players received 57 percent of basketball-related income in the previous deal, but Hunter and Fisher said that the union presented a proposal of 53 percent, which they said would have given owners back nearly $1 billion over the life of the six-year compromise. Hunter said the league proposed giving the players 47 percent of the basketball-related income — up one percentage point from the previous offer — which “pretty much ended” the meeting. But both sides couldn’t even agree on that. Stern and Silver countered that they discussed the possibility of a 50-50 split, without making a formal offer — “a concept in the language of negotiations,” Stern said — but the players were not open to the proposal.
“While we were in the process of doing that . . . we were advised by the players that that would not be acceptable to them. At that point it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to continue,” Stern said. “We’d like to not miss the first two weeks of the season, but it doesn’t look good.”
Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce — three players who experienced the last NBA work stoppage, were among the star players who attended Tuesday’s session. Hunter said players would not accept a bad deal to get back to playing games and were prepared for the consequences. “Our guys have indicated a willingness to lose games,” Hunter said.
“We’ve never taken that prospect lightly,” Fisher said. “Even though we’re basketball players, this is not a game to us. We’re taking this process seriously.”
Several prominent NBA agents have pushed for the union to decertify — a tactic that the NFL players’ union employed in its labor dispute last summer — and though he previously has been against taking that route Hunter said that he might take it under consideration. “There are a lot of things that we have to consider before we go in that direction. But clearly that’s something we may have to give some thought to,” he said.
The Wizards will lose six preseason games — including a home game against the Dallas Mavericks. If the first two weeks of the regular season are eliminated, the Wizards would lose home games against New Jersey and Orlando and road games against Miami and Orlando.