NBA lockout begins as sides fail to reach deal - NBC Sports

NBA lockout begins as sides fail to reach deal
Claiming significant losses, owners cut ties with players
AP
Union chief Billy Hunter speaks to reporters after a meeting with the NBA on Thursday in New York. Hunter says "it's obvious the lockout will happen tonight" after players and owners failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement, potentially putting the 2011-12 season in jeopardy.
July 1, 2011, 2:07 am

The NBA locked out its players Friday when its collective bargaining agreement expired, becoming the second pro sports league shut down by labor strife.

The labor deal ended at midnight after players and owners failed to reach a new contract. The two sides remained far apart on just about every major issue, from salaries to the salary cap, revenues to revenue sharing.

The long-expected lockout puts the 2011-12 season in jeopardy and comes as the NFL is trying to end its own work stoppage that began in March.

It is believed to be only the second time that two leagues have been shut down simultaneously by labor problems.

In 1994, the NHL and MLB were idle from October through the end of the year. The NHL locked out its players from October 1994 until mid-January 1995 and reduced the 1994-95 season from 84 games to 48. MLB endured a 232-day strike from August 12, 1994 until April 2, 1995, which led to the cancellation of the entire 1994 postseason and World Series.

In a call with the labor relations committee on Thursday, Commissioner David Stern recommended that the first lockout since the 1998-99 season be imposed.

"We had a great year in terms of the appreciation of our fans for our game. It just wasn't a profitable one for the owners, and it wasn't one that many of the smaller market teams particularly enjoyed or felt included in," Stern said. "The goal here has been to make the league profitable and to have a league where all 30 teams can compete."

Despite a three-hour meeting Thursday and a final proposal from the players - which NBA leaders said would have raised average player salaries to $7 million in the sixth year of the deal - the sides could not close the enormous gulf between their positions.

All league business is officially on hold, starting with the free agency period that would have opened Friday. The NBA's summer league in Las Vegas already has been canceled, preseason games in Europe were never scheduled, and players might have to decide if they want to risk playing in this summer's Olympic qualifying tournaments without the NBA's help in securing insurance in case of injury.

And teams will be prohibited from having any contact with their players, most of whom won't be paid until a deal is done but insist they'll hang in anyway.

"We're going to stand up for what we have to do, no matter how long it's going to take," Thunder star Kevin Durant told The Associated Press. "No matter how long the lockout's going to take, we're going to stand up. We're not going to give in."

The lockout comes exactly one year after one of the NBA's most anticipated days in recent years, when Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the celebrated class of 2010 became free agents.

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The last lockout reduced the 1998-99 season to just a 50-game schedule, the only time the NBA missed games for a work stoppage. Hunter said it's too early to be concerned about that.

"I hope it doesn't come down to that," he said. "Obviously, the clock is now running with regard to whether or not there will or will be a loss of games, and so I'm hoping that over the next month or so that there will be sort of a softening on their side and maybe we have to soften our position as well."

The NBA appeared headed this route from the start of negotiations. Owners said they lost hundreds of millions in every season of this CBA, ratified in 2005. League officials said 22 of the 30 teams would lose money.

So they took a hard-line stance from the start, with their initial proposal in 2010 calling for a hard salary cap system, reducing contract lengths and eliminating contract guarantees, as well as reducing player salary costs by about $750 million annually. Though the proposal was withdrawn after a contentious meeting with players at the 2010 All-Star weekend, the league never moved from its wish list until recently, and Hunter said he believes negotiations never recovered from that rocky beginning.

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Despite frequent meetings this month, the sides just didn't make much progress.

Owners want to reduce the players' guarantee of 57 percent of basketball revenue and weren't moved by the players' offer to drop it to 54.3 percent - though players said that would have cut their salaries by $500 million over five years.

They sparred over the league's characterization of its "flex" salary cap proposal - players considered it a hard cap, which they oppose - and any chance of a last-minute deal was quickly lost Thursday when league officials said the union's move was in the wrong direction financially.

"I don't think we're closer; in fact it worries me that we're not closer. We have a huge philosophical divide," Stern said.

Hunter said he hopes the two sides will meet again in the next two weeks, after the union has looked at some additional documents it requested.

The players' association seems unlikely, at least for now, to follow the NFLPA's model by decertifying and taking the battle into the court system, instead choosing to continue negotiations. Hunter said last week he felt owners believe the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, which is debating the legality of the NFL's lockout, will uphold employers' rights to impose lockouts.

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About 90 percent of NBA players get paid from Nov. 15 through April 30, so they won't be missing checks for a while. But Stern has warned that the offers only get worse once a lockout starts, so the league could try to push through elements of its original proposal when bargaining resumes.

"The fortunate thing about this situation is it didn't just come up over the past couple of weeks," Hornets guard and players' executive committee member Chris Paul said at an event in Louisiana. "We've known this could be a possibility the past couple of years. I've been telling my teammates the past couple of years, and even the young guys that come in the league, to just be ready for it."

Like with the NFL lockout, NBA players won't be the only ones affected. Employees of teams and the league also face a very uncertain future. Stern admitted all options would be considered, including furloughs for his employees.

"The people who stand to have their livings impacted by a shutdown of our industry are going to have a negative view of both sides," Stern said. "I think our fans will tend to have a negative view of why can't you guys work this thing out."

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