NEW YORK – With all due respect to the young hopefuls gathered across the Hudson River waiting to hear their names called at the NBA Draft, the assemblage of pro basketball talent standing in a hotel ballroom in midtown Manhattan a few hours earlier Thursday was more impressive.
And, frankly, a lot more important to the NBA’s future.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Andre Iguodala and Jason Terry were among approximately 60 players who, quite literally, had the backs of Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association and union president Derek Fisher after a briefing on the labor negotiations with the owners.
With support – a show of solidarity, really – from a spectrum of players ranging from future Hall of Famers to minimum-salaried role players, Fisher and Hunter talked of the resolve the union members have as the pursuit of a new collective-bargaining agreement veers closer to a lockout.
“We’d love to avoid a lockout,” Fisher said, “but we’re unified in the sense of not being afraid if that’s what we’re faced with.”
Said Garnett, one of the NBA veterans who went through the 1998-99 lockout that cut the schedule to 50 games: “This is a situation where you set the precedent now for later. We have so many young guys, three or four years into the game… The deal that’s going to be set in now is going to ffect not only those players but the players coming in behind them. It’s more imperative now for us to be on the same page.”
Just as the owners’ unity was stressed Tuesday by NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver, the players – after wrapping up the offseason meeting of player-reps from all 30 teams, with additional members sitting in – demonstrated their commitment to the union effort. They back the group’s stance on such deal-scuttling issues such as a hard salary cap or givebacks estimated at $7 billion over the 10-year contract sought by the owners.
“We’re as unified as we’ve ever been,” Fisher said. “We’ve been instructed not to accept a deal that is not fair to our players.”
Said Hunter: “What you see here is the NBA. This is a microcosm of the 450 players that we represent. Every team is represented here, every level of player. … The players want a deal, they want a fair deal, they don’t want a lockout. We will make every effort to achieve what they’ve instructed us to do.”
The next bargaining session is set for Friday, with none scheduled beyond that before the current CBA expires June 30. At Tuesday’s session, the union offered a reduction in the players’ share of basketball-related income from 57 percent to 54.3 percent – essentially, a pay cut of about 4.7 percent worth a total of about $500 million over their proposed five-year deal.
The owners continue to pursue what they term a “flex” salary cap – which features a target payroll of $62 million per team, with minimums and maximums sandwiching it – and eventually a 50-50 split of a modified pot of league revenue.
“A lockout is something that we are trying to avoid by making multiple offers that treat our players fairly,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. “We are dismayed by the union’s unfortunate rhetoric.”
Hunter said the players’ negotiating moves Friday would be dictated by the “atmosphere in the room” and what “overtures” are made by management. The owners have a Board of Governors meeting set for Tuesday in Dallas at which a lockout authorization vote is expected to take place.