Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- The National Basketball Association canceled its preseason schedule and will vacate the first two weeks of the regular season if the league doesn’t reach a new labor agreement with its players by Oct. 10.
Yesterday’s four-hour negotiations at a Manhattan hotel collapsed when the players rejected the idea of a 50/50 split of basketball-related income, or BRI, NBA Commissioner David Stern said at a news conference.
“We weren’t able to make the progress that we’d hoped we’d be able to make and we weren’t able to continue the negotiations,” Stern said.
The league told the players that if an agreement in principle isn’t reached by Oct. 10 it would have “no choice but to cancel the first two weeks of the season,” Stern said.
“There’s no meetings scheduled,” he said. “We were told that it’s not to be.”
As things stand, an agreement by that date is unlikely, National Basketball Players Association President Derek Fisher said at a news conference, standing in front of players including All-Stars Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.
Union Executive Director Billy Hunter said it could be “maybe a month, two months” before the sides talk again. The regular season is scheduled to begin Nov. 1.
BRI Key Issue
“It’s your guess as to when we’ll next meet,” he said.
The talks yesterday, which focused entirely on the economic split of revenue, broke down with the owners officially offering to give the players 47 percent of BRI and the union seeking 53 percent.
With no more movement apparent, the top negotiators from the two groups then floated to each other the idea of a 50/50 split. Stern and NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver took the idea to the owners and the union leaders went back to the rest of their group.
“While we were in the process of doing that with our owners, we were asked to step out and we were advised by the players that that would not be acceptable,” Stern said. “At that point, it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to continue.”
Stern added that the owners “were going to be prepared to go down that road” of a 50/50 split.
“If Adam and I tell the owners we are going to go back and sell something, it’s going to get sold,” he said.
Protecting Future Players
The union’s actions yesterday came down to protecting future players, Fisher said.
“It’s really about a lot of young men that are not standing here today,” Fisher said. “There’s a place that we have to remain in order to protect those players.”
Many NBA players have agreed to contracts to play in Europe, and Bryant, who has been in negotiations to play in Italy during the NBA lockout, said he’s still “up in the air” as to what his plans are.
With only so many overseas jobs available to NBA players, Hunter said the rest of the league remains committed to holding out until a fair deal can be reached.
“The thought amongst some of the owners is that as soon as the players miss a check or two they’ll cave,” Hunter said. “I was quite specific in saying to them, ‘I hope you don’t underestimate these guys. The players are pretty strident.’”
Stern and Silver also disclosed yesterday that the owners offered a 10-year contract that gave the players the opportunity to opt out after seven years, and that owners had backed off on not allowing guaranteed contracts in the next deal.
“We should have continued negotiating,” Silver said. “I’m personally very disappointed.”
The only other time the NBA, which began play in 1946, delayed the start of its season was in 1998, when a labor dispute led to a campaign that began in February 1999 and was shortened to 50 games from 82.
--Editors: Dex McLuskey, Rob Gloster
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