NEW YORK – With rank-and-file players beyond those on the National Basketball Players Association’s executive council attending, the negotiating session Tuesday of a new NBA collective bargaining agreement was living up to its billing as the most critical one yet.
In addition to the union officers – along with all the other owners, lawyers, NBPA executive director Billy Hunter and staffers in the room at a midtown Manhattan hotel – at least four players attended the talks. Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, Arron Afflalo of the Denver Nuggets and the Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia showed up for the session.
Beginning at 11 a.m. EDT, this meeting has been portrayed by NBA commissioner David Stern as pivotal in the two sides’ ability to get a deal before the June 30 expiration of the current CBA. At their last meeting, on Friday, the owners made what they considered to be a significant concession by dropping their fight against guaranteed contracts. Stern said he and the owners expected a counterproposal from the union on par with that.
This is a hectic week for the NBA, with the annual June draft set for Thursday night in Newark, just across the Hudson River from labor talks that – if they aren’t fruitful – could delay those rookies’ debuts for an indefinite period of time. The league canceled the Las Vegas Summer League Friday and similar events and business could fall victim to the “rolling horizon” if talks drag on.
The two sides remain far apart on a variety of issues covering both the split of NBA revenues and the system under which they conduct business. The owners have been seeking a hard salary cap similar to that used in the NFL and the NHL, a reduction in contract lengths and a more favorable cut of revenues, currently a 57-to-43 percent split favoring the players.
The union has balked at demands that would slash total player compensation by about $750 million from its current $2.1 billion. It so far has refused the concept of a hard cap. And it feels that the owners’ financial problems – 22 of the league’s 30 teams allegedly are losing money – can be addressed in part by enhanced revenue sharing, lessening the burden on the players.
The best news for fans, under this mostly gloomy cloud, is that the sides seem committed to the face-to-face sessions. Stern indicated last week that talks might continue daily, with union reps scheduled to be in New York Thursday anyway. Come Friday, they’ll be one week away from a potential lockout, which could quicken the pace further.
“We’ve even been known to work weekends around here,” Stern had said. “It’s not called for yet, but everyone is flexible.”