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NBA LOCKOUT, PART I: THE BIRD EXCEPTION STILL STICKING POINT
Published June 30, 1998
The NBA's "nuclear summer has begun" as Commissioner David Stern announced yesterday the league will lock out its players beginning midnight Tuesday, according to David Moore of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. The recommendation of the league's nine-man labor relations committee was "unanimous" and the "only action" the owners needed to void the final three years of the current CBA. Moore writes the owners' decision "was driven by economics" and there are "strong indications this impasse is more complex and contentious" than previous disputes between the league and its union (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 6/30). Stern: "We can't afford to play the season under the current system. ... The final numbers aren't in, but for the first time, as a whole, we believe the league was actually unprofitable last season." Stern, asked if the lockout could threaten the start of the season: "Yes, that is fair and accurate. Unfortunately, there are a number of clubs that would do better not operating than actually operating. That's something the players don't yet understand." NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter said in a statement, "Unfortunately, the owners continue to demand unprecedented concessions. Until the owners abandon their posture of seeking one-sided concession bargaining and show some willingness to compromise, it is difficult to expect any progress" (Greg Logan, NEWSDAY, 6/30). In S.F., David Steele calls it a "mild surprise" that the league "did not even make a pretense of pushing negotiations" with the NBPA until the last moment, "announcing its intentions a good 32 hours before" the CBA was to expire. Stern: "We were in touch with the union. ... But we really had nothing to talk about" (David Steele, S.F. CHRONICLE, 6/30). WHAT IT MEANS: In N.Y., Mike Wise reports that while league business will effectively be stopped, previously- scheduled charity games "were spared." Players rehabilitating injuries will be forced to work out arrangements through the team to be treated privately (N.Y. TIMES, 6/30). In Boston, Peter May reports that teams will "forward a player's mail, and the league won't prevent players and management from co-mingling in social situations, such as weddings" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/30). USA TODAY's Roscoe Nance: "For the average fan, the lockout won't have many visible effects" (USA TODAY, 6/30). NEXT MOVE: NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik said the Larry Bird exception continues to be the sticking point in negotiations. Granik: "At our last meeting, the union said to us that unless the owners are prepared to maintain the Larry Bird exception they have nothing further to talk about" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 6/30). Granik: "We tried not to focus on the Bird exception as such, but we need an agreement that is not open-ended. There may be one whereby we keep 'Bird,' or some elements of it" (DENVER POST, 6/30). In Chicago, Lacy Banks reports the owners want to replace the Bird exception with a new rule allowing high-profile, 10-year vets to be grandfathered into the exception. The NBPA's Hunter: "But that's only for this year. It's a one- shot deal." Granik has proposed that a player whose contract has expired will be able to re-sign for his old deal with a 5% increase. Teams will be allowed to go "over the cap" in signing players with the 5% increase (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 6/30). Yesterday, Stern mentioned three economic models the league would consider: Decide on a fair share for the players and write a check to the union to distribute as it wishes; agree on a specific percentage of the gross, and if salaries exceed that percentage, the owners would not be responsible; or a hard cap (NEWSDAY, 6/30). Hunter: "Their position is no hard cap, no deal. ... For lack of a better word, our only position on that is to go to war" (USA TODAY, 6/30). More Hunter: "They don't want the top player on any team to make more than $10 million a year. Nobody restricts how much money they can make. ... When they say, 'Take it or leave it,' we obviously left it ... and there may have to be some bloodletting" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/30). Granik said the possibility of bringing in a mediator is an option. The two sides are "not expected to meet" until after the union meets in Hawaii from July 6-12 (N.Y. TIMES, 6/30). ESPN's David Aldridge reported it "will be a couple of months before any serious negotiating gets done" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 6/29). TV MONEY: NBA owners will receive their TV rights fee from Turner and NBC even if the regular-season games are canceled. The payments must be returned in the fourth and final season of the TV deal, "depending on the number of telecasts missed." Stern: "That money has to be repaid to the networks, so it's not like extra money given to teams. It was arranged so our teams would be in a position to survive the season without dire economic consequences in the short term" (Barry Jackson, MIAMI HERALD, 6/30). In Denver, Mike Monroe puts the rights fee for each team at $23M (DENVER POST, 6/30). NBPA counsel Jeffrey Kessler said, "What's really driving this [the lockout and CBA reopening] is that (the owners would) like to keep more of the TV deal than they kept under the old deal" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/30). In N.Y., former NBPA President Buck Williams tells Kevin Kernan that he believes CBS and Fox are contemplating a new league: "There's not a better time" (N.Y. POST, 6/30). HOW IT PLAYED: The lockout was the subject of front- page stories in USA Today, the N.Y. Post and the Houston Chronicle. ESPN's "SportsCenter" led its early and late editions last night with the owners' declaration.