SBD/October 14, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NBA Lockout Watch, Day 106: Stern Says Christmas Games In Jeopardy

NBA Commissioner David Stern Thursday said if the league does not reach a new CBA with the NBPA by Tuesday, "my gut is ... that we won’t be playing on Christmas Day.” Stern appeared on WFAN-AM's "Francesa" Thursday after NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter was on the show Wednesday, and he said the league "welcomed" mediator George Cohen and that Tuesday's meeting with him “is a really big deal.” Stern: “If we don't make a deal by the time my owners … come in Wednesday and Thursday after we met with the mediator on Monday and then met with each on other on Tuesday, then I despair because we will have lost two weeks for sure on our way to losing more games, offers will get worse -- possibly on both sides -- and the deal is going to slip away from us, as may the season. So this is the time to make a deal.” Stern added, “Deal Tuesday or we potentially spiral into a situation where the worsening offers on both sides make it even harder for the parties" to reach an agreement. Host Mike Francesa asked Stern, “What do you use as a guideline as to when you would have to cancel more games?” Stern replied, “I don't have a date here sitting at my desk, but if we don't make a deal by the time the owners are in, then what’s the purpose of us sitting around staring at each other on the same issues?” Stern added, "We’ve got a great game. We all love the game. It’s got us at a place where we're doing well with our fans. They saw great basketball, they saw a great season and we're sitting on a proposal that takes our players' salaries up to over $7 million and we’re not on a hard cap or nonguaranteed contracts and someone thinks we want to cancel the season? ... Nobody wants to lose a season.” Stern also responded to comments made by Hunter, and said "The one thing that Billy said on the show yesterday that caused my head to almost explode was that there was allegedly an offer to split the 47-53 50/50.” Francesa noted, “But he said it wasn't made to him.” Stern replied, “It was actually a union-initiated proposal and it didn't fly. You may have to have both of us in tomorrow (Stern and Hunter) with lie detectors” ("Francesa," WFAN-AM, 10/13).

MAKING THE MEDIA ROUNDS: Stern was making the media rounds Thursday and Friday, hitting several high-profile outlets to discuss the current situation. In addition to WFAN, Stern conducted interviews with NBA TV, ESPN, ESPN Radio and syndicated radio shows "The Jim Rome Show" and "The Dan Patrick Show." He told Turner's David Aldridge if there is going to be a "breakthrough, it's going to come on Tuesday" during the session with Cohen. Stern: "If not, I think that the season is really going to potentially escape from us because we aren't making any progress." He noted the league is “ready to sit down and make a deal. I don’t believe that the union is.” Stern added, “Unlike Billy Hunter, you’ve never heard me say something is a ‘blood issue.’ That would be an unfair labor practice charge, but we didn’t pursue it.” Stern said the NBA accepted the mediation offer “because we’ve always been in favor of mediation and we think that the federal mediator could be helpful to break a logjam.” Stern: “We’ve clearly indicated a desire to reach a deal on more than one occasion” (NBA TV, 10/13). Stern added, “I’m proud of our owners. They literally demonstrated that they do want to make a deal, and we’re not feeling it from the other side” ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 10/14). Stern reiterated his feeling the league will not be playing by Christmas to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, saying a “bunch of hard-headed people will have moved in opposite directions.” When asked what the deadline is to still have a season this year, Stern said, “Even if I knew it I wouldn’t tell you because we’re ready to negotiate and I don’t want to give deadlines.” He said his message to fans is, “We are sorry it’s reached this. We will try as hard as we possibly can to make a deal” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 10/13). 

SCHEDULING DETAILS: CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger noted the NBA BOG is "scheduled to meet in New York Wednesday and Thursday -- first for the planning committee to present its revenue sharing plan and then for a full board meeting." Sources said that Cohen initially "wanted to hold bargaining sessions at his Washington, D.C., office beginning Tuesday and continuing for the rest of the week." But with the owners scheduled to be in N.Y. for the BOG board meetings Wednesday and Thursday, "that wasn't possible." By discussing the potential for cancellation of the Christmas games, Stern placed considerable "importance on the first sit-down bargaining session with a mediator who has no binding authority." Berger wrote Stern's comments "felt like a negotiating tactic more than a realistic deadline or threat." However, by responding to Hunter's comments Wednesday, Stern did "by far his most effective, convincing job yet of laying out the owners' vision for a new system that would shrink payroll disparity and enhance competitive balance in a new CBA" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/13). ESPN's Chris Broussard said Stern was “doing a bit of posturing, sending a message to the union’s rank-and-file players saying if they want to play basketball this season, they need to push for an agreement soon” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 10/13).

STATE OF THE UNION: Hunter is "expecting a united -- not hostile -- crowd when he meets with some of the NBA’s locked-out players at a Beverly Hills hotel on Friday." In responding to Stern's belief there will be no basketball on Christmas, Hunter said, "All I can say is we’ve tried to make an agreement with them. We put a more than fair offer out there with a $1.1 billion giveback over six years. We believe it guarantees profit and addresses the whole nine yards. But I think they want more -- and they just can’t get it all off the backs of the players." He added, "We are trying to exercise every option and pursue every avenue. And [mediation] is an avenue. The public is aware. The public is watching. The public is saying they want us to get a deal. And we are going to be in front of a neutral third party who can help bridge the gap." Hunter said whether the sides can reach a deal by Tuesday is "not an issue of time." Hunter: "It’s an issue of will. If you are in a room and you want to make a deal and there are three major issues that are holding you up, if you can come to a compromise on those three areas [then] you have a makings of a deal. It’s not a nature of time" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/13).

ON THE DOCKET: In N.Y., Mitch Lawrence notes the players "believe they scored a major victory Wednesday" when the NLRB denied Stern's request to have the union's unfair labor practices charge dismissed, but the players are "a long way from seeing this tactic get them back onto the basketball court." Stern appeared before the NLRB Wednesday "seeking the dismissal," but the NLRB "decided to continue with the case, which the players union hopes will lead to the league being forced to restart operations and open the season under the previous collective bargaining rules." An NBPA source said, "That is what Stern and his owners are worried about." But Lawrence notes the players' case "has several more steps to go, and it's being viewed by legal experts as a long shot to help them break" the lockout. For the players to force the NBA to reopen, the NLRB "would have to issue a complaint against the owners, ruling that the league did engage in unfair labor practices." The NLRB then would have to "convince a federal court that, among other things, the players have been caused irreparable damage during the lockout" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/14).

FAN PERSPECTIVE
: ESPN.com's Michael Wilbon wrote under the header, "NBA Lockout Risk: Public Ridicule." Wilbon: "The country is in no mood for the NBA's stupid dispute; and if the lockout lasts past Christmas and into the time when people expect to see professional basketball, which is quite possible, the bet here is the owners and players are going to face a level of disdain that could embarrass the two sides into a settlement and haunt the league for years" (ESPN.com, 10/13). T'Wolves F Kevin Love acknowledged the fans' perspective and said, "It's hard to pick a side when it's billionaires fighting against millionaires. I mean, it's no secret that's what's going on here. I think in any lockout, people are gonna be disheartened in that way, because that is the case." He added, "Any time that we miss from here on out is disheartening. Not only for the players or for the owners, but all the way down through the NBA." Clippers F Blake Griffin said, "We have to wait for a deal that's fair for both sides. It's not just about the players. It's about the guys that are coming after us and the guys that are about to retire. So we're gonna stand together" (ESPNLA.com, 10/13). 

Rodman says players "should bow down" to
end NBA lockout
WHO SHOULD BLINK FIRST? Basketball HOFer Dennis Rodman said Thursday the players "should bow down" in the negotiations. Rodman said, "In 1999 we (were locked out) and we missed half the season. The owners bowed down then. They gave the players everything. I think the players should do the same thing for the owners because today most of these teams are losing money" (TORONTO SUN, 10/14). In West Palm Beach, Ethan Skolnick writes under the header, "NBA Players Might As Well Relent Now; They're Not Going To Beat The Owners." Skolnick: "The only hope for them is that federal mediator George Cohen, who has interjected himself into the discussions, somehow tilts the table back to even" (PALM BEACH POST, 10/14). In Denver, Dave Krieger wrote Stern is "taking a predictable amount of heat for the cancellation of games," but "fortunately, he's more interested in the long-term financial and competitive health of the NBA than his reputation in the blogosphere" (DENVER POST, 10/13). ESPN.com's Larry Coon wrote Stern last week "approached the players with the idea of a 50-50 BRI split," and the two sides should "agree to hold separate secret votes among the franchise owners and union members on whether to accept 50 percent, after being shown the penalty of waiting week to week." Coon: "The voting should be administered by a trusted intermediary not connected with either side who keeps the individual votes secret. If at least half the voters on both sides votes 'yes,' then the result becomes official and binding" (ESPN.com, 10/13). 

FRANCHISE NEWS & NOTES: A CHARLOTTE OBSERVER editorial states Bobcats Owner Michael Jordan and his team "have repaired much of the damage with the community previous owner Bob Johnson inflicted." The editorial: "Season ticket sales are up and the community's goodwill is returning. If the unthinkable happens, and this season is canceled, they would lose that momentum much more quickly than they earned it. So what should Charlotte hope for? A deal that comes quickly, before fans lose interest. ... That's the only way this town can hope to see a consistent pro basketball winner somewhere besides the visitors' bench" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 10/14). Meanwhile, in Orlando, Josh Robbins reported people  paying in installments for '11-12 Magic "season tickets and partial plans have been given a reprieve by the team." The team sent e-mails Thursday "to those customers to say their next payment won’t be due until a new collective bargaining agreement" is reached (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 10/13).

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