SBD/October 21, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NBA Lockout Watch, Day 113: Mediator Says "No Useful Purpose" In Continuing Negotiations

Negotiations to end the NBA lockout "collapsed again Thursday night, in spectacular fashion, with more acrimony, mistrust and fiery rhetoric, and despite the involvement of a federal mediator," according to Howard Beck of the N.Y. TIMES. The talks ended at "about 7 p.m., after nearly 30 hours spent over three days at a Midtown Manhattan hotel." NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver said, "Ultimately we were unable to bridge the gap that separates the two parties." No additional meetings are scheduled, and Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service Dir George Cohen "has effectively withdrawn from the process." The parties had "made progress on a number of smaller items, like the midlevel exception, adjustments to the rookie-scale system and a so-called amnesty provision that would allow teams to waive players to clear salary-cap room." Silver said that he "began the day feeling optimistic," and officials on the players' side also "felt that progress was possible when the talks reconvened" Thursday afternoon following an NBA BOG meeting. But union officials suggested that "something changed during that owners meeting." NBPA officials said that Trail Blazers Owner Paul Allen "was a surprise [participant] at the labor talks, and had been sent to deliver the owners’ message -- that they would move no further." Union outside counsel and lead negotiator Jeffrey Kessler, a partner at Dewey & LeBoeuf, said, “This meeting was hijacked. Something happened in that board of governors meeting. We were making progress.” Kessler said Allen was sent to convey the owners' position, “and that view was, ‘Our way or the highway.’ That’s what we were told. We were shocked" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/21).

WHAT WENT WRONG? USA TODAY's Jeff Zillgitt reports the players "made a slight move, off 53% to 52%, but it was not what the owners wanted." NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter said that Silver "told them the owners won't go past 50%-50%." Differing accounts of Thursday's meeting "illustrate how far apart the sides remain." The league said that the union "ended talks, and the union blamed the league." Zillgitt notes it is "difficult to see them finding common ground right now on a new collective bargaining agreement." Lakers G and NBPA President Derek Fisher "told news reporters they were 'lied to' by" Silver and Spurs Owner Peter Holt. Hunter "singled out owners he believes are most hawkish in seeking a CBA with significant changes," and named Holt, Allen, the Wizards' Ted Leonsis and the Cavaliers' Dan Gilbert. Hunter said, "There are owners in the room who want the system that they're demanding, and there are not enough owners in the room with a contrary position who can carry the day. … There's a group of owners, the small markets in particular, that were dug in, and I think they are carrying the day." Holt said, "Right now … it could be tougher than it has been in the past to get back together" (USA TODAY, 10/21). In Boston, Gary Washburn notes both sides "walked away jaded, accusing the other of making unreasonable demands." Hunter indicated that Holt "told the NBPA that a 50-50 split was a 'take it or leave it' deal." Silver said, "We felt we made several significant compromises, proposed compromises to get a deal done. But we have certain core beliefs that which we think are absolutely necessary to achieve before we continue to play NBA basketball." Hunter said that the players "proposed a 53-50 sliding scale that would guarantee the players at least a 50 percent share regardless of the league’s economic state, and 53 percent if revenue streams flourish." Hunter and Holt said that the "owners refused," and "responded with the 'take it or leave it' offer" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/21).

NBPA Exec Dir says he was rebuffed by Holt (r)
when he tried to discuss non-revenue topics
THOUGHTS FROM HUNTER
: In Boston, Steve Bulpett notes Hunter "claims he was rebuffed" by Holt when he "tried to leave the split aside and discuss the tax system." Hunter: "I said, 'Are you saying that this is a take it or leave it?' And he said, 'Yeah, that’s basically what it is.' He said, 'We’re not going to talk about the system unless you agree to the 50-50.' And I said, 'Are you serious?'" (BOSTON HERALD, 10/21). After the league negotiators drew "a line in the sand at a 50-50 split" Hunter said that Gilbert "urged him to 'trust his gut' that the system would be something the the players could agree to." Hunter: "I said, 'No, I can't trust your gut.' I've got to trust my own gut.'" CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger notes Kessler made a "compelling -- if incendiary -- case, even implying that the strategy was somehow related" to NBA Commissioner David Stern's absence in the meeting. Stern had the flu and was sent home by doctors (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/21). Hunter said, “Early on it was my belief this was all preplanned, pre-ordained, predestined. ... By that I mean I knew from the get-go at least two or three years ago it was the NBA owners’ plan to lockout, break the union, break the resolve of the players and oppose upon the players and union the system they wanted.” He added, "They want their system and they're determined to get it. It's about running the table. We said under no circumstance will that happen" (CHRON.com, 10/20).

DOING THE DIRTY WORK
: Kessler indicated that Allen at the BOG meeting "rallied his troops to take a harder stance on what the owners feel is a necessary, crucial overhaul to the system" (PHILLY.com, 10/20). The BOSTON HERALD's Bulpett added, "Some group in that Board of Governors made the decision that they are going to blow us off and blow off the fans" (BOSTON HERALD, 10/21). In Chicago, K.C. Johnson notes Hunter also "singled out ... Allen in this regard" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/21). Hunter said, "When Paul Allen came into the room, [the owners] alluded to Paul and said that Paul was there because the owners were of the position that they had given up too much in the negotiations and he was there to reaffirm their position." Hunter said that he "made a speech to Allen, essentially asking him if the owners would table the BRI talk and try to finish tackling the system issues separately." Hunter said, "Paul didn't respond. He was just in the room" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/21). CBSSPORTS.com's Ben Golliver writes the NBA lockout "gained its first true villain when Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett allegedly helped hijack labor talks a week or so ago," but everything "said about Garnett goes double, triple, or one hundred fold," for Allen. Golliver writes Allen "doesn't care about accountability and he definitely doesn't care about the notion of a 'fair deal for both sides.' All he cares about, in the end, is pursuing his own self-interest to the max" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/21).

PRESS CONFERENCE FALLOUT: In L.A., Mike Bresnahan writes after Thursday's session, the "body language of the key figures said it all." Fisher "clenched his jaw while talking to reporters, obviously irritated by an abrupt end to the talks." Fisher also "didn't like what the owners said in their news conference, chafing at the insinuation that players dragged their feet." He said, "You guys were lied to earlier. It's that simple." Bresnahan notes even Cohen "seemed to throw up his hands at the chasm separating players and owners, releasing a statement that said in part, 'No useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation at this time.'" Holt said, "We've kind of worn each other out." Bresnahan notes it was a "bad day for the NBA and its fans" (L.A. TIMES, 10/21). In N.Y., Mitch Lawrence notes things "got very messy shortly after the two sides failed to get anywhere close to a deal." Players "were incensed by how the negotiations were portrayed by Silver" and Holt during the NBA's press conference (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/21). Holt said, "Certainly we don’t want to lose the season. I don’t think the NHL did either [in '04-05] but it ended up happening. There are certain things we feel we must have." In N.Y., Marc Berman writes the "harsh tactics by Silver and Holt stunned the players association since the first two days -- which included 24 hours of talks -- didn’t go badly." Hunter called the owners' 50-50 demand “the poison pill” (N.Y. POST, 10/21).

TURN UP THE HEAT: In Philadelphia, Kate Fagan writes the labor dispute "went from toasty warm to red-hot" on Thursday. Kessler indicated that "very little negotiating actually took place on Thursday." Hunter "gave a play-by-play blow of what he says actually happened" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 10/21). Fagan noted it is "very possible that [Thursday] -- the rhetoric and anger -- has set this bargaining process back an indefinite length of time and money" (PHILLY.com, 10/20). On Long Island, Alan Hahn notes the "real fireworks involved an alleged attitude the owners brought into Thursday's meeting" following what Silver called a "robust'' NBA BOG meeting in the morning. That meeting "involved heated discussions about improving the revenue-sharing plan" (NEWSDAY, 10/21). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Kevin Clark writes the union held its "most heated press conference of the lockout" after Thursday's session (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/21).

PHONING IT IN: Sources said that Stern was "in constant communication with the owners' side via conference call" despite being at home with the flu (NEWSDAY, 10/21). Before the end of the talks, Silver had announced that Stern "would be available via conference call during the mediation." But Hunter said that he "wasn’t aware Stern could be reached." Hunter added, “Maybe it was easier for them to take this position without him there." He also indicated that the "tone of the day was strange without Stern" (N.Y. POST, 10/21). In Chicago, K.C. Johnson writes it is "no wonder" that Stern stayed home Thursday, as the talks "deteriorated in spectacular fashion" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/21).

IT'S ALL ABOUT TRUST: YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote it was "clear after the latest impasse that the level of trust between the two sides has deteriorated." The talks "once again broke down on the proposed revenue split." Union officials "think the league’s hard-line owners" are making it "difficult for the two sides to reach a compromise." Despite the discord, both sides "admitted making some progress on minor issues" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/20). In N.Y., Howie Kussoy reports the players "now describe more acrimony and distrust than at any other point during the process." Wizards F and NBPA VP Maurice Evans said, "I hate to use the expression the gloves are off, but for all intents and purposes, the gloves are off." He added, "The press conference [Silver and Holt] had wasn’t very accurate. We were making progress, and for that to suddenly end, that just speaks volumes." Hornets G Chris Paul: "I don't know where we go from here" (N.Y. POST, 10/21). Mavericks F Dirk Nowitzki said, "I'm hopeful but I don't know if that's going to be enough" (DALLASNEWS.com, 10/20).

Fisher was upset by last night's NBA press
conference after labor talks broke down
WHO'S RIGHT?
ESPN.com's J.A. Adande wrote it "makes sense for the owners to wait to see what the players have to say when their bank accounts start dwindling. Adande noted the NBA's press conference "set Fisher off," and the "normally unflappable player president lost his cool." Adande: "It will take a drastic change for them to move off their sides, and again, the economic damage hasn't been dramatic enough for them to give in. ... The smart move by the owners is to fixate on 50-50, knowing how easy that is for the public to process. But that's just the beginning, for the people actually involved in the negotiations" (ESPN.com, 10/20). But in West Palm Beach, Ethan Skolnick wrote, "The players, in my view, are right on principle. But they can’t win. They have little to no leverage" (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 10/20). TRUE HOOP's Henry Abbott wrote he has "talked to every expert [the league has] ever mentioned on or off the record, as well as independent authorities." Abbott: "The more I dig, the more startling it is how thin the evidence is to support the league’s assertion that they can spread hope around the league with financial tricks. Limiting how much the Los Angeles Lakers can spend might sound like a good way to make the Sacramento Kings better, but I'm not sure it works that way. ... The league asks us all to celebrate competitive balance -- so long as the pain of creating it is felt primarily by the players. When owners could do something real to make the league more competitive, like change the playoff format or pay Chris Paul far more on the open market, they lose interest" (ESPN.com, 10/20).

GENERAL DISGUST: CBSSPORTS.com's Berger writes the two sides "deserve each other." Berger: "What happened Thursday was irresponsible and gutless -- which shouldn't come as a surprise in sports, where the irresponsible and gutless go to make their millions (or billions) and play us for fools. ... I'm mad at everybody right now, but do you know who I'm angrier at? The owners. Why? Because I believe Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher when they say it was an ultimatum from the owners that shattered these talks Thursday night." There are "hard-liners among the owners who refuse to give the players a dime more than 50 percent, and some harder-liners who were reluctant to go even that far." The NBA has "not only been unable to keep hard-line owners from influencing the negotiations, they couldn't even keep them out of the room Thursday" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/21).

SPORTS GUY SAYS: GRANTLAND.com's Bill Simmons wrote he has had Clippers season-tickets since moving to L.A. in '03 and recently added NHL Kings season tickets. Simmons: "Next June, I will be eliminating one of them. ... The Kings have either seven, eight or nine months to win me over. And right now, their odds are better than I thought." Simmons wrote he bought Kings tickets "because I like hockey," but he added he "never would have bought Kings tickets without a lockout." Simmons: "That's the part these NBA numbskulls are missing. By disappearing, you're not just canceling a few weeks or a few months. You're crippling yourself competitively. ... Forget about solving this particular lockout. Where is this league going? What does it want to accomplish?" More Simmons: "Why won't Stern say when he's leaving? What's his succession plan? Is Adam Silver taking over? And if he is, why isn't he being more empowered right now? From the players' side, who takes over when Billy Hunter retired five years ago? I mean, five years from now? Who will be shaping the league????" Nobody "knows these answers, and if there's anything scarier about this whole fiasco, I haven't found it." The NBA is a league "that pretends to be 'reinventing' itself when, really, it hasn't done any real innovation other than how it's embraced the digital world and its business relationships in Europe and China." Simmons: "You know how you create real change? You seek opinions from outside parties. ... Where's the big-picture leadership here?" If there is "an irony here, it's that Gary Bettman ... has a chance to take advantage of David Stern's mistakes." The door has "swung wide-open for the Kings," and Simmons wrote he is "thinking, Maybe I'm not gonna miss basketball as much as I thought. Life moves on. It always does" (GRANTLAND.com, 10/19).
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