NEW YORK — The NBA has a better chance of playing no games this season than it does to play 82 games.
Commissioner David Stern announced the cancellation of games through Nov. 30 on Friday, ensuring a regular season of fewer than 82 games for the first time since the league had a 50-game schedule in 1998-99.
“It’s not practical, possible or prudent to have a full season now,” Stern said after three days of negotiations between the league and its players’ union toward a new collective bargaining agreement disintegrated. “We held out that joint hope together, but in light of the breakdown of talks, there will not be a full NBA season under any circumstances.”
The sides again failed to close the most difficult gap between them: how to divide nearly $4 billion in revenues. The league has not budged from a 50-50 split of basketball-related income, while the players say they will not accept less than 52.5 percent. On the 120th day of the NBA lockout, the difference might be 2.5 percentage points — about $100 million annually, or $1 billion over 10 years — but with owners set to lose hundreds of millions of dollars from the cancellation of the preseason and the first month of the regular season, Stern said the union shouldn’t expect the offer to improve.
“We’re going to have to recalculate how bad the damage is,” Stern said. “The next offer will reflect the extraordinary losses that are piling up now.”
No further talks have been scheduled.
There appeared to be genuine optimism about salvaging the full season as the sides made progress on some salary cap issues while tabling discussions about the revenue split during the first two days of negotiations this week. On Thursday, Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, said a deal was within “striking distance.”
The players’ union has been pushing for the league’s owners to establish a revenue-sharing system to limit some of the losses claimed by teams. But Stern said revenue sharing was not possible without a profitable league and felt owners would achieve that with 50 percent of revenues. When asked if 50 percent was his best and final offer, he said, “I don’t ever say ‘best and final’ ”
Players received 57 percent of revenues under the previous collective bargaining agreement.
Stern added the sides stopped talking on Friday because “Billy left the room. . . . Billy Hunter said he was not willing to go a penny below 52 and that he had been getting many calls from agents. With that, he closed up his book and walked out of the room. And that’s where we are.”
Hunter charged Stern with “snookering” him into believing that league was prepared to make a deal. “Yeah, he was prepared to make a move because they went back to 47, then they went up to 50, so, yeah, they made a move,” Hunter said. “It’s like when you’re playing checkers, you know, jump backwards and then you come forward.”
Hunter continued: “They got to the place again that was 50-50, take it or leave it. And we’ll leave it again like we left it last week.”
By going down to 52.5 percent, Hunter contended the players would transfer $1.5 billion to the owners over six years.
Union President Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers added that the owners were seeking too many “system restrictions,” such as a more punitive luxury-tax system on big-spending teams, that would hinder player movement.
“We didn’t want to rush through this today and to build this artificial pressure to close out a deal today that’s going to impact our members for the next 10 years,” Fisher said. “We’re hopeful soon enough we can get back at this and close it out. Today is not the day.”
The Wizards would lose nine additional games to cancellation, including two at Verizon Center, bringing their total to 14, five of them home dates. The players stand to lose nearly $400 million as a result of losing the first month of the season, but Stern said no side is immune to pain of this work stoppage.
“I would say both sides are very badly damaged,” Stern said “The amount of dollars lost to the owners is extraordinary, and the amount of dollars lost to the players under individual contracts is also extraordinary. There will be two severe sets of losses. But that’s what happens in a labor dispute where there’s a shutdown.”
With the talks continuing to break down because of the same issue, Stern was asked if he felt the league and players union were going around in circles. He replied, “It’s certainly ‘Groundhog Day,’ if not circles.”