SBD/March 22, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Billy Hunter Disputes NBA's Financial Claims, Says NBPA Won't Agree To Hard Cap

Hunter calls guaranteed contracts the "lifeblood" of pro basketball
The NBPA feels that "only a 'small number' of NBA teams are losing money and continues to say that it is not willing to put a hard salary cap into play" this summer when it negotiates a new CBA with the league, according to Henry Abbott of ESPN.com. The NBA has repeatedly said that "more than half its teams are losing money -- more than $300 million a year." But NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter said, "Our belief is that a small number of teams are suffering, and their problems can be addressed through revenue sharing." Hunter also said that the "key negotiating point for the players is the NBA's push for a hard salary cup, rather than a 'franchise tag' or some other limit on the movement of top players." He contends that a hard cap would "effectively end guaranteed contracts which he calls 'the lifeblood' of professional basketball." Hunter: "We've had that right for years, and it's not something we're trying to give up." With the CBA expiring June 30, the NBA says that it has "given the players all the financial information they need," but the union believes that the "reality is more complex than is expressed in those documents." NBPA Dir of Communications Dan Wasserman said players are projected to make a combined $2.02B this season and added, "Just two years ago that number was $2.14 billion, so negotiated salaries are down $120 million in two years. That's the first time that has happened." The union argues that a "reduction in negotiated salaries demonstrates that the current CBA is sufficient to reduce long-term spending." Hunter said of the league's stance, "We're trying to determine whether it's all rhetoric, or if it's real. ... David (Stern) hasn't given me any indication for me to conclude that it's rhetoric. He seems pretty strident, and pretty much dug in in terms of where he is" (ESPN.com, 3/21).

BILLY'S CLUB: YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski reported Hunter, during an address to NBA players over All-Star weekend with Stern, "had a different plan" this year than in the past, "unleashing an inspired soliloquy to frame the gathering storm of labor strife." The speech "may have just transformed the way the biggest stars in the sport see him." The room was "thick with league executives, coaches and players on the afternoon of Feb. 19, and they listened to Hunter insist he couldn’t come in good faith and tell them everything was well within the NBA." Hunter said that the owners "had made a crippling proposal, a long lockout loomed and these players in the room would bear the biggest financial and public relations burden of a work stoppage." He "dropped dramatic, long pauses and left everyone -- including Stern, who had started barking into the ear of his deputy, Adam Silver -- thinking that Hunter had come to advocate the players make some kind of bold stand themselves." Wojnarowski reported Stern "would barely even look at Hunter when Hunter handed him the microphone," and the players "could see the anger rising" within the commissioner. Several players in that meeting contend that Stern then "told the room he knows where 'the bodies are buried' in the NBA," because he "had buried some of them himself." Bulls G Derrick Rose recounts, "It was shocking. I was taking off my gear, and when he said that, I just stopped and thought, ‘Whoa ...' I couldn't believe that he said that." Wojnarowski noted for "all the talk of the players’ disjointed ranks, Hunter had gone a long way toward cementing the support of his most important constituents." Rose: "Especially Billy talking like that with David in the room, it makes you feel good." Hunter more recently said of Stern, "I don’t think he has the sway that he once did. I’m not saying that he’s not the commissioner and does not have the power to act. But I don’t know that he has the unfettered, undying support that he had before. There’s maybe a little crack in the dike" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/21).
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