HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — After months of disagreeing on almost everything, the end of September has delivered the first common ground NBA players and owners can share: time is of the essence.
With a clear understanding that the calendar is not on anyone’s side in the league’s labor dispute, the sense of urgency for both sides has cranked up. We offer the robust attendance and reported tone of the action during Friday’s meetings in New York Friday, which will continue today as reported by NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner, as Exhibit A:
A source told NBA.com’s David Aldridge that at one point, NBA commissioner David Stern was emphatically directing a comment — and pointing his finger — at [Dwyane] Wade, the Miami Heat’s All-Star guard. Wade objected and interrupted Stern, reportedly saying: “Don’t point your finger at me. I’m a grown man. I have children.”
The meeting broke at that point. A few minutes later, Stern sought out Billy Hunter, NBPA executive director, to briefly talk privately. Soon thereafter, the session resumed.
While no one sounds ready to declare that a deal is imminent or even in the works, there is no doubt that everyone involved understands that it is time to get down to the business of solving their differences before it’s too late …
Stars Step Into the Spotlight
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: Before a stunning confrontation between Dwyane Wade and NBA commissioner David Stern in Friday’s labor meeting, Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul told their Players Association peers that they’re willing to sit out the season rather than make further concessions to the owners, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Wade, James and Paul were at the forefront of a strong players presence at a Park Avenue hotel for Friday’s contentious bargaining session. In a private union meeting prior to the bargaining session with owners, James kept reiterating to the group of elite players that they shouldn’t give back a greater share of the league’s basketball-related income (BRI) than what they’d already conceded in previous negotiations.
“We’re all together on 53 [percent], right?” James said. “All together on 53 right?”
“LeBron, Wade and Paul want to fight this so hard, they don’t seem scared about missing the season,” one source in the negotiating room told Yahoo! Sports.
James, Wade and Paul believe the owners are bluffing in threatening to ultimately cancel the season to get the changes they want in the collective bargaining agreement, a source in the meeting said. In the meeting with union peers, the three stars declared their willingness to miss games rather than drop down from the 53 percent of BRI the union has proposed to the NBA.
Despite the bold talk out of the sport’s biggest stars, the union privately has expressed a willingness to move further toward ownership this weekend with an understanding that Stern wants desperately to cut a deal with the players and avoid a prolonged work stoppage.
If nothing else, the owners did see the star players’ resolve on Friday. Once the players entered the room with the owners, Wade reacted harshly to what he perceived as Stern’s condescending way of lecturing him on the issue.
Union Holding The Line
Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated: There was widespread speculation entering the weekend that the union might be willing to make compromises in order to salvage the income from a full 82-game season. But two union sources said the players agreed to hold firm during an emotional private meeting Friday before the afternoon negotiations, with crucial leadership provided by [Paul] Pierce, the 2008 NBA Finals MVP of the Celtics.
The union leadership reviewed the recent give-and-take of the negotiations amid repeated questioning by Pierce and heated talk from James. Others spoke up as well, but when Pierce was told that the union had already offered to cut its revenue-share from 57 percent to 54 percent of Basketball Related Income (BRI) in order to help the owners deal with their operating losses, he urged his fellow players to unite behind Fisher and union chief Billy Hunter in not yielding further.
Of course it is understood that the players will eventually have to make additional compromises in order to reach an agreement; the union has admitted it was willing to make a larger financial concession as recently as Sept. 13 in exchange for maintaining the current luxury-tax system. It also must be noted that the owners will argue — with equal frustration — that the union’s current downgrade to 54 percent of revenues doesn’t cover all of their reported losses.
What matters most to the players this weekend is their ability to remain unified, and to that end they succeeded. They entered the negotiating session believing they were on the same page. One union source said Pierce had a “galvanizing” impact on his fellow players.
“I’ve been here, I’ve seen the first lockout (as a rookie in 1998-99), I understand fully what’s going on,” Pierce told SI.com. “It’s just about driving the best deal for both sides so we can start the season, that’s basically what we’re trying to do.”
Pierce has long been a leader within the union. He is known to have a good relationship with Hunter, and it was Pierce who came up with the idea of outfitting the players with “STAND” T-shirts (implying they would stand together) last June as the lockout approached. Pierce deferred to Fisher when asked if the union should make further financial concessions. “We’re making our moves, that’s where we stand,” said Pierce. “It’s a process. It’s hard to say are we closer or are we farther (apart). Right now we’re just putting all our ideas out on the table.”
One Item Of Contention Settled?
Chris Sheridan of Sheridanhoops.com: One insider described the meeting as more or less a scene-setter for the more serious round of talks that will begin at some point during the weekend, possibly carrying into the early part of next week. Of the league’s 29 owners, 10 were in attendance.
Stern has said the owners were already sharing $54 million in revenues, and he previously promised to triple it in a new labor deal.
A quadrupling of that number would provide a pool of at least $216 million by the 2014-15 season.
But owners have resisted including an internal revenue-sharing plan as a part of the new collective bargaining agreement, and they have not moved off that stance. It was unclear if the players had acquiesced to the owners keeping revenue sharing out of the labor agreement, but Stern’s remarks seemed to indicate that they had.
“They know precisely as much as we know as to how it is going to work,” Stern said.
So if Stern is to be taken at his word, the two remaining big issues — finances and the operating system — will be the focus of the chess match over the next several days if the sides are to reach an agreement that will save the scheduled Nov. 1 start of the regular season.
Stern said he did not, and would not, issue a threat to cancel the entire season if an agreement is not reached in this round of discussions.
“It’s as ludicrous today as it was the day Marc Stein wrote it on ESPN.com,” Stern said, taking the unusual step of singling out a reporter for criticism by name and affiliation.
Someone Needs To Watch The Clock
Howard Beck of the New York Times: Time is growing short. The league needs three to four weeks to draft a deal, sign free agents, hold training camps and play one or two preseason games before starting the season. Opening night is scheduled for Nov. 1.
If the parties do not have the framework of an agreement in the coming week, cancellations will be practically unavoidable. N.B.A. officials will not make that concession just yet, however. Commissioner David Stern also denied, in the strongest terms, that he had any intention of canceling the entire season if no deal was made this weekend.
ESPN.com, citing anonymous sources, reported on Wednesday night that Stern intended to make that threat at Friday’s meeting.
“Whatever the eventuality is, the idea that we would at an early stage cancel the season is as ludicrous today as it was” when it was reported, Stern said. “It’s just not in the cards. The only thing that we said is that it’s hard, in terms of negotiations, if you start to lose regular-season games, because both parties’ positions harden.”
Fisher and Billy Hunter, the union’s executive director, also denied that any threat had been made, or even implied. Hunter called the report “way off base.”
Friday’s meeting was the most heavily attended since the lockout began on July 1, and the first since then to involve so many elite players. Those present included Boston’s Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Cleveland’s Baron Davis and Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala, in addition to James and Wade of the Miami Heat and the Knicks’ [Carmelo] Anthony. They joined the union’s nine-man executive board, which includes the New Orleans star Chris Paul.
The owners had 9 of 11 members of their labor committee present, plus the Miami Heat owner Mickey Arison.
While the labor agreement remains out of reach, one critical piece of the N.B.A.’s new economy — a broader revenue-sharing plan — is nearly in place. Stern said the league would triple its revenue-sharing pool next season and quadruple it by the third year of a new labor deal. The league has presented the outline to the union, which had been demanding more information about the revenue-sharing plan as part of the negotiations.
The league is still seeking major economic concessions from the players, however, to address a reported $300 million in annual losses.
“As we’ve said before, revenue sharing doesn’t change the aggregate economics,” Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said. “The union understands that as well.”