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NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik has issued a statement saying that due to what the league says is the NBPA’s recent reversal of position on several key issues, there are no further CBA negotiations scheduled. Granik: said after a bargaining session on April 17, “We thought we were very close to a deal, with only a few items remaining to be compromised. On April 19, a day after the Players Association met with a group of player agents, we were informed that the Players Association could no longer agree to a previously-committed five-year rule on length of contracts. Then, last week, after promising a written proposal to form the basis of a new agreement, the union instead advised us orally that it needed to backtrack on several other essential terms that had already been resolved.” Granik said the NBA offered to raise the salary cap from 48% to 51% of BRI [basketball-related income], “to lessen the impact of the luxury tax by distributing escrow funds to all teams equally, and to guarantee the players as a group the same 57% they have received in each of the last two seasons” (NBA). Granik said the “No. 1 priority” for owners is a reduction of the maximum length of contracts (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/19). Granik added, “We’ve gone backwards the last few weeks. We don’t know where we’re going from here. ... The situation is alarming. It’s difficult to see how we can get where we need to be” (USA TODAY, 5/19).
BLAME AGENTS? Granik: “It appears to be a possibility that the agents are responsible for what happened here. [But] I don’t have personal knowledge of this” (ESPN.com, 5/18). NBA Commissioner David Stern: “We need to get back to the table without the agents injecting themselves into our negotiations as they currently have” (TNT, 5/18).
HUNTER CLAIMS RACIST UNDERTONES: NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter said the league blaming agents is the “same approach used by the league seven years ago [when a lockout postponed the start of the season]. At that time the word was that (agents) David Falk and Arn Tellem and others were actually orchestrating and managing the negotiations. I thought it was repugnant and offensive at that time, and I think it’s even more so now the fact the inference is that me, as a black man, cannot operate an institution such as the union without having some white man oversee and legitimate whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing” (ESPN.com, 5/18). More Hunter: “If Commissioner Stern wants to push this off and pretend that agents are running the show then that’s a terrible misconception, and I think he’s being disingenuous” (TNT, 5/18).
AGENT REAX: In L.A., Mark Heisler cites an agent who was at the April 18 meeting as saying the union “never represented that they had made a deal. They just went through the different issues and asked our opinion. They never represented they were close to a deal” (L.A. TIMES, 5/19). In Chicago, Sam Smith cites an agent saying that the union “never agreed on any contract lengths and termed the NBA’s response posturing” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/19). Agent Mark Bartelstein: “It’s impossible for me [to see] how the players would accept a system that goes farther backward than they are now” (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 5/18).
DEAL MAKERS? Hunter added of a new CBA, “We’re not going to do a bad deal. And if that means as a result that we have another lockout, then we just have another lockout” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/19). Hunter: “If we give something we expect something back in exchange” (WASHINGTON POST, 5/19). NBPA General Counsel Jeffrey Kessler said, “I don’t think the union has any intention to make a counter comment on the specifics. It’s bargaining. There’s nothing unusual going on” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/19).
PLAYER REAX: NBPA President Michael Curry, on the NBA’s claim that the sides had agreed to shortening the length of contracts and other issues: “We hadn’t agreed on anything. When we ran the numbers with our economist, it didn’t work. It wasn’t a deal that we could suggest our players take.” NBPA Secretary & Treasurer and Magic F Pat Garrity said talks ended because the owners “got greedy.” Garrity: “We were giving up everything. We asked for some things in return and they wouldn’t give. We were on the right path and their eyes got too big, and now it’s backfiring” (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 5/18). But Hornets F and union rep P.J. Brown said, “I still believe we’re going to get a deal done. ... Negotiating things like this takes a lot of time, and both fronts are not going to give up easily” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 5/19).
MORTAL LOCK? In N.Y., Mitch Lawrence cites sources as saying that “four to five major issues still have to be resolved” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/19). Former Hawks/Braves/ Thrashers President Stan Kasten considers an NBA lockout a “certainty if there is no agreement when the current agreement expires” June 30. Kasten: “This is not close anymore. No question, business will stop on July 1 if there isn’t an agreement” (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 5/19). One GM before the announcement of talks breaking down said, “I’d be stunned if anything different from [a lockout] occurs.” Another GM said, “We’re already thinking up contingency plans for when they cancel the summer leagues. We’ve got to tell our players now how to prepare for summer before we’re not allowed to talk to them anymore” (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/19). ESPN.com’s Marc Stein cites sources as saying that the NBA and its teams “are bound to take a harder line because of what's happened in hockey. They think, as training camp in October draws closer, that they can get the players to acquiesce to their demands." ESPN's Tim Legler added of the NBA’s desire to shorten the length of contracts, “The Players Association will never go for that. They're not going to give one inch on that. That's something they got in the last negotiation; they want to keep that obviously. That to me is the line in the sand issue” (“SportsCenter,” 5/18).
NBA Commissioner David Stern, NBA Senior VP & General Counsel Richard Buchanan, NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter, Rockets VP/Operations & Trainer Keith Jones and Wizards G Juan Dixon testified this morning before the U.S. House Government Reform Committee during a hearing on steroid use in the league. Committee Chair Tom Davis (R-VA) in his opening statement said, “Taking testing results from rookie players and extrapolating the results to reflect on the entire league doesn’t cut it.” Ranking minority member Henry Waxman (D-CA) added, “The NBA penalties are not strong enough to provide a significant deterrent. ... The NBA’s remarkably weak steroid program makes it impossible to know whether there is a problem.” Committee member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said, “I am disturbed by the fact that the NBA’s steroids testing policy is weaker than that of the NFL or MLB.” Cummings: “If ever there was a time to have an effective steroid testing program, it is now. ... It is my hope that the players will recognize the urgent need to adopt the recommended changes” (ESPNews, 5/19).
FOR OPENERS: Stern, in his prepared opening statement, said, “The NBA is fully committed to a strong and effective drug testing program for steroids and performance-enhancing substances. We made a good start in this area with the creation of our first steroids program in 1999, but intend to do better by making improvements in this program prior to the start of next season” (NBA).
Stearnes Hears From NFL
Execs During Last Session
TWO HARSH: Subcommittee Chair Cliff Stearns (R-FL) asked Tagliabue if he felt the two-year suspension for the first offense “is too draconian,” to which Tagliabue replied, “Yes. ... If there are federal standards, and they are high and they are demanding, fine. What I do not want to see happen here is our ability effectively to run the best program in the country (be) limited. If I want to fire somebody, ... (who) didn’t do his or her job, I want to be able to fire that person and not have to go to the Secretary of Commerce” (ESPNews, 5/19).
FOOTBALL FANS: Several members of the Subcommittee praised the NFL for its testing program, including House Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Joe Barton (R-TX), who said, “I think in many ways, y’all have done an excellent job. ... (But) we do want to have one testing agency so we get uniformity.” Subcommittee member Edolphus Towns (D-NY) added, “I think that the real problem is that some of the other ... leagues have not made the kind of progress that you’ve made.” Towns added, “When someone is doing basically what they should do, we should leave them alone. And you seem to be doing that. ... Others are not doing that.” Towns said to Stearns, “When you have someone that’s moving forward in a very positive kind of way, I wonder if we should take action now, or should we wait and see if others get the message. ... I would prefer us not being involved in it if we don’t have to be involved in it” (ESPNews, 5/19).
Stern Outlines Drug-Testing
Proposals During Hearing
HONOR SYSTEM: Hunter said that the league depends on players to report someone they suspect of using performance enhancing drugs. Stearns asked Hunter, “Do you think that policy would work with the Olympics? Do you think it would work with the NCAA? Obviously not, because they have random testing, and it’s throughout the whole year.” Hunter: “I think what has happened is that we’ve gone through a revolution. ... When the policy was adopted, we didn’t have the problem.” Stearns: “I suspect that you don’t know that you don’t have a problem if you don’t test.” Hunter: “We don’t have a problem” (ESPNews, 5/18).
COLLECTIVE BARGAINING: Hunter echoed the sentiment expressed by representatives from MLB, MLS, the NHL and their respective unions during the morning session that collective bargaining was the best way to deal with performance-enhancing drugs. Hunter: “We continue to believe that collective bargaining is the most appropriate form for the resolution of these items.” Barton responded, “In a perfect world, I’d rather this be done at the collective bargaining table. ... We don’t live in a perfect world. I think there really needs to be a federal standard.” Stern told the Subcommittee, “We feel we have a strong program, and it will get much stronger –- much, much stronger. But if Congress sees fit to legislate here, I can pledge to you that we will meet or exceed any standard that is set” (ESPNews, 5/18).
ULTIMATUM: Much of the discussion from the Subcommittee during the morning session focused on MLB and the increased penalties proposed by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Subcommittee member Lee Terry (R-NE) said, “The only way to maybe clear our minds or give us confidence is by a harder stance. ... I urge you to clean it up and adopt harsher measures soon, and perhaps we won’t have to adopt legislation.” Subcommittee member Fred Upton (R-MI) said, “We’ll move this bill, particularly if you all stay stuck at ten (games suspended for a first offense).” Selig: “There should be no doubt left in anyone’s mind that we have rid our sport of steroids, and to do that we have to toughen the penalties” (ESPNews, 5/18). Barton said that the bill “would move forward regardless of baseball’s next move,” though Stearns noted that it “could lose momentum if the union agrees to Selig’s proposal” (NEWSDAY, 5/19).
Selig Receives Praise For Performance During Return Trip To Capitol Hill
FEHR BURNED: Subcommittee member Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said to Fehr, “It seems that you might be one of the few people in the world that thinks baseball’s current penalties are tough enough. I have to ask you, are you spectacularly misguided in your approach to this issue and to the legislation?” Fehr: “The data indicates that (MLB’s current policy) does (work). The incidents of use fell precipitously once the program was put in.” Blackburn then asked, “Is it (MLB) players pushing you to keep the penalties where they are, or is it you that is pushing to keep the penalties where they are?” Fehr: “This has been an issue that has been divisive (among the players). ... I expect that that dialogue will continue” (ESPNews, 5/18). Blackburn also noted that Fehr had served as USOC Public Sector BOD member “at the same time he was working to minimize drug testing in baseball.” Fehr said that he “had not dealt with drug issues on the Olympic committee because that would have been a conflict of interest” (George Vecsey, N.Y. TIMES, 5/19).
NEW TARGET: After the hearing, Stearns said that he was “disappointed with Fehr’s slowness in addressing the issue and that Fehr ‘didn’t fare as well as he should have’” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/19). Stearns, on the position of the unions: “When I hear them throwing up the collective bargaining screen and the Fourth Amendment screen, I think, ‘We’ve got to keep moving forward’” (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/19). Subcommittee member Tim Murphy (R-PA) said, “I never heard the players association say, ‘We don’t want government involvement,’ when the facilities were being built. It seems to me there are two standards. You’re saying give us the money but don’t watch what we do” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 5/19).
FEHR REAX: In DC, Thomas Boswell writes, “Another significant step was taken yesterday on Capitol Hill in the slow, inexorable, but necessary process of bludgeoning Donald Fehr and his baseball union on the need for more stringent testing and punishments for steroids cheating. ... Fehr had his worst day yet. Which means that, for those who want to see the Steroid Age die a swift and complete death, baseball had its best day in a long time” (WASHINGTON POST, 5/19). Also in DC, Eric Fisher writes the Subcommittee “grilled Donald Fehr ... in a fashion typically reserved for Selig” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/19). However, NEWSDAY’s Neil Best writes Fehr faced “the brunt of Congress’ concerns. As ever, Fehr was unshakable in the face of criticism and pointed questioning” (NEWSDAY, 5/19).
SELIG REAX: The N.Y. TIMES’ Vecsey writes of Selig’s appearance, “The new baseball commissioner, this man we’ve never seen before, vowed that baseball would turn back the forces of evil. ... Selig did everything but stand up on a table and shout, ‘Off with their heads!’ It was perhaps his finest hour” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/19). The WASHINGTON TIMES’ Fisher writes that “unlike many prior, embattled appearances before Congress, Selig yesterday remained calm, focused and received none of the rebukes dominating” the House Government Reform Committee hearing in March (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/19). In N.Y., Jay Greenberg: “Congress now loves the new, rough, tough, Bud Selig” (N.Y. POST, 5/19). Also in N.Y., T.J. Quinn notes the differences between MLB’s Government Reform Committee hearing in March, and writes, “This time, with the help of consultant and former White House spokesman Ari Fleisher, baseball carefully crafted its message and pledged its cooperation, proposing tougher standards earlier this month and putting the union on the defensive” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/19). The WASHINGTON POST’s Boswell: “Selig has finally seen the light. Or, perhaps, he has simply heard the howls and growls of Congress, the outrage of the public and media, as well as the investigations of some of his players by the FBI and Justice Department” (WASHINGTON POST, 5/19).
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES: ESPN.com’s Buster Olney said Selig’s stance has “cost him credibility with the union. Two months ago, the players saw Bud Selig sit before Congress and say, ‘Hey, this testing system is working; let’s give it a chance.’ Now he’s throwing (the union) under the bus. I think they’re asking the question, ‘Can we trust this guy?’ This may manifest itself in the next collective bargaining that’s done after (the ’06 season)” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 5/18). The N.Y. POST’s Greenberg writes Fehr “undoubtedly saw through Selig’s new proposal for its intended pressure on the union. Fehr wouldn’t dare say so publicly, because using the game’s integrity as a bargaining chip no longer flies. But we would be surprised if, after this, the union will be in any mood for further givebacks when the owners will come after more in 2007” (N.Y. POST, 5/19).
POWER STRUGGLE: The N.Y. DAILY NEWS’ Quinn writes the Subcommittee “appears to be in a minor turf war with” the House Government Reform Committee. Stearns said that “only his committee has jurisdiction over the issue.” Subcommittee member Bobby Rush (D-IL) said that it “was good to be holding hearings ‘in the actual committee that has jurisdiction on this matter’” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/19).
FIA Extends Position To Ecclestone