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NBA TALKS FACE SERIOUS SETBACK AS OWNERS WALK OUT
Published August 7, 1998
Negotiations between the NBA and its players broke off yesterday when the owners' group "abruptly ended the session, dismissing a union proposal as economically perilous," according to Murray Chass of the N.Y. TIMES. Chass: "Both sides accused the other of deliberately torpedoing the meeting and the immediate chance for progress in the off-season lockout." No further bargaining sessions are scheduled, though lawyers for the league and the players will meet today with arbitrator John Feerick "to schedule a hearing on the union's grievance over the teams' failure to pay guaranteed salaries" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/7). DETAILS: USA TODAY's Roscoe Nance reports that talks took a "giant step backward" after a "cordial" and "seemingly productive morning" where the sides reached a consensus to add marijuana to the league's banned substance list and the owners offered a proposal for a hard cap to be phased in, which would add $50M a year to player salaries and increase the average salary from $2.6M to "at least" $3.1M in year four. But those "good feelings disappeared" in the afternoon when union counsel Jeffrey Kessler presented a proposal from players which included: player salary increases tied to league growth, with 63% of BRI going to salaries; a three-year rookie wage scale with teams holding the right of first refusal in year four; a $500,000 minimum salary for players with 1-5 years experience, and $750,000 for those with 5-7 years, with an extra $100,000 per year of service; an average salary exception that would provide a $3M pool for teams over the cap to sign one player a year for the average salary; and a lottery exception that would allow teams over the salary cap that don't make the playoffs to sign any player they want to. NBA Commissioner David Stern and the owners then walked out when Kessler, Stern said, began "lecturing owners on the risks they were taking by not accepting the proposal." Stern: "The words they were using were an insult" (USA TODAY, 8/7). In N.Y., Lenn Robbins writes the meeting had a "sudden, childish conclusion" (N.Y. POST, 8/7). NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter, on the walkout: "I think it's more feigned. It's part of a charade. It was funny" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/7). LEGAL-ESE: Both Stern and Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik "attributed the afternoon breakdown to union management thwarting talks with 'a lecture' on the legal shaky ground the owners inhabited in two pending litigation cases" -- one where Feerick will rule if owners must pay players during the lockout, the other a complaint before the NLRB stating the owners have unfairly imposed the lockout before an impasse had been reached. Granik: "The best we can surmise is their counsel told them, 'You don't want to do anything constructive here. You want to play out the legal string'" (Ric Bucher, WASHINGTON POST, 8/7). ESPN's David Aldridge reported that both sides will now wait on an anticipated hearing next week on whether the league has to pay its players' guaranteed salaries during the lockout. If Feerick "rules for the union, and that ruling is upheld, there would be little financial incentive for the league to continue the lockout" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 8/6). MORNING SICKNESS? Hunter said "at least part" of the morning session was "acrimonious," including an early exchange between Karl Malone and Jerry Colangelo. Kessler: "Colangelo said we had to address the drug agreement, rookie issues and a hard salary cap. They want to slow the growth of salaries" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/7). Granik said later that the "major change the union made that was positive" was their position on the rookie contract, which would run three years, with players subject to a first refusal system "akin to what we used to have" (MIAMI HERALD, 8/7). WHO ATTENDED: Stern and Granik said the morning session included talks between players and owner reps, which included the Rockets' Les Alexander; the Knicks' Dave Checketts; the Jazz's Larry Miller; the Heat's Mickey Arison and the Suns' Jerry Colangelo (WASHINGTON POST, 8/7). Thirteen players attended the talks (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/7). THE PLAYERS REACT: Karl Malone: "I was totally amazed at all the games they (owners) were trying to play, instead of dealing with issues. When they walked out, I couldn't believe it. ... To me, the message was sent. They treated me with disrespect by walking out of the meeting and not negotiating" ("The Last Word," FSN, 8/6). Magic rep Danny Schayes: "It got a little ugly at the end, but that's typical at this state of negotiations" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 8/7). The Wizards' Mitch Richmond: "When we first stepped into the room we said our stance hadn't changed and we weren't willing to go with a hard cap and I think right there they were willing to walk out" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/7). NBPA President Patrick Ewing: "It's just too bad that instead of dealing with it, the owners had to show us disrespect by getting up and walking out" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/7). CNN/SI's Mark Morgan reported that on August 10, Hunter and Ewing "will begin a series of meetings around the country to build union support" ("Sports Tonight," 8/6). FROM MANAGEMENT: Stern: "I think they intended for their proposal to be insulting. And then to have their attorney lecture the owners on what a grave risk they are taking if they don't accept the latest proposal. That's not negotiating" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 8/7). Granik, on the union: "The strategy here is to litigate, arbitrate and make no concessions" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/7). More Granik: "At this point, it's hard to be optimistic" (USA TODAY, 8/7). DID KESSLER LECTURE? Kessler said he didn't lecture owners: "When they were about to storm out of the meeting, I suggested that they recognize there are going to be some very important legal decisions to be made rather quickly and it might be in their interest to negotiate seriously before those decisions come down" (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 8/7). OTHER REAX: On CBS SportsLine, Mike Kahn writes the last CBA was negated after players received up to 57% of BRI as opposed to 48% and "now they wanted more?" Kahn: "We now have intermediaries involved who could destroy the 1998-99 basketball season. ... With Kessler ranting legalese at Stern, Granik, [NBA Senior VP/Chief Legal Counsel] Jeff Mishkin and [NBA General Counsel] Joel Litvin -- all with law degrees -- it made little sense to expect a respectful audience" (CBS SportsLine, 8/7). In DC, Michael Wilbon writes that despite yesterday's breakdown, he feels the "majority of NBA players aren't committed to missing a season. Or a portion of a season. A great number of the NBA's high-profile players are committed to one thing and one thing only: getting paid" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/7).