SBD/November 28, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Inside How The NBA Deal Got Done: Was Christmas The Key Date All Along?

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Some owners reportedly said they only wanted a season if it started by Christmas
The NBA "is back in business, with a new labor deal that heavily favors the owners, despite some last-minute concessions," according to Howard Beck of the N.Y. TIMES. A "truncated 66-game schedule will begin Christmas Day with three nationally televised games." Training camps "will open on Dec. 9," and free agents will be "permitted to sign contracts that day, setting up a chaotic two-week dash toward the 2011-12 season." The 10-year deal with a mutual option to terminate after six years "will feature a 50-50 split of revenues, but with the possibility of the players making as much as 51 percent or as little as 49, depending on whether the league exceeds or falls short of projections." Negotiators must still "settle a myriad of so-called B-list issues, including drug testing, the age limit and use of the Development League." Additionally, the entire CBA "must be formally written and ratified," but both NBA Commissioner David Stern and NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter "expressed confidence that the deal would be approved" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/27). YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski noted "after 16 hours of negotiations Friday, the two sides reached a handshake agreement a little after 3 a.m. ET in New York." Both sides "must still get a majority vote from the 29 owners and 450 players to finalize the agreement," and players are "expected to vote on the agreement no later than the middle" of this week (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/26). Stern said Saturday, "The reason for the settlement was we’ve got fans, we’ve got players who would like to play and we’ve got others who are dependent on us." Hunter said, "We thought it was in both of our interests to try to reach a resolution and save the game." Stern said that he "doesn’t expect unanimous support but anticipates that both sides will endorse the deal." A league exec said, "The best deals are the ones that no one is 100 percent happy with" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/26). NBPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler said, "Today feels great." He added, "The owners finally were willing to make the changes in the system that the players were pressing for" (USATODAY.com, 11/27). In Boston, Gary Washburn noted the NBA Labor Relations Committee met Saturday and the NBA's 29 owners are "expected to approve the deal perhaps as early as" today (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/27).

PLAYERS' PERSPECTIVE: Hunter on Saturday sent a memo to the players which stated in part, "You should have a quick understanding of why we reached this agreement. I have prepared a quick list that sets forth all the changes that the owners agreed to as part of the settlement since a week ago Monday." Included in the memo is the fact players will receive 51.2% of BRI during the '11-12 season (USA TODAY, 11/27). On Long Island, Hahn & Henry noted Hunter's "job is a little more complicated" than Stern's as he first must "reform the players' union -- which had been dissolved last week to start the antitrust process -- and then bring the agreement to the players for ratification." Hunter: "We're confident that once we present it, (the players) will support it" (NEWSDAY, 11/27). Knicks G and NBPA VP Roger Mason Jr. said, "The deal will be received well. ... Everyone that I have spoken to, their tone has been, 'Get us a fair deal.' So we went back and a lot of the issues that we had were rectified and I think the guys will be satisfied and ready to get back to work." He added, "It's a good feeling, but we still have the B-list issues to tackle. But the main issues we've agreed on, and that's a good feeling." SI.com's Sam Amick noted one player when "asked if he wanted to comment publicly on the tentative agreement: 'Should it be a positive quote, or a negative one bashing leadership for missing a check for no reason and agreeing to a deal that was essentially in place three months ago?' (SI.com, 11/26). T'Wolves F and player rep Anthony Tolliver said, "I'm optimistic we'll get everything done. We already feel we've lost the battle based on the things we had to give up to get a deal done, but I have all the confidence in the world in the guys we had in that room." He added, "Once we vote, we have to look at David Stern as a partner again, not the enemy. We as players want to help grow this league together with management" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 11/27). Lakers F Matt Barnes said, "For us to come to a vote, it's close to as good as it's gonna get." Raptors F DeMar DeRozan said, "Everybody will accept this deal and we'll get back to work" (ESPNLA.com, 11/27). Bulls G C.J. Watson "praised commissioner David Stern's strategy." He said, "Stern is a good negotiator. That's the approach we should have taken at first" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 11/28). In N.Y., Mitch Lawrence notes the players "likely won't get to vote on the new labor deal for at least another week." One source said, "It might not be until the 8th when there's a vote. There's a lot of work to be done before camps and the free-agent period can open" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/28).

THE VOICE OF REASON: CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger wrote in reaching a deal, the two sides "needed a voice of reason to guide them." In stepped attorney Jim Quinn, the "former NBPA outside counsel who played a pivotal role in ending the 1998-99 lockout." Quinn "reached out to both sides over the past week and presided over a secret settlement meeting Tuesday at the offices of his firm, Weil, Gotshal & Manges on Fifth Avenue." Fisher and Spurs Owner Peter Holt, the NBA's Labor Relations Committee Chair, "flew to New York for Friday's negotiating session after Quinn's back-channel work had set the table." But Quinn "was not present for the negotiating finale," and neither was Kessler, "who had been quietly pushed out of his role as lead negotiator." Neither side "divulged details of the agreement reached early Saturday, but sources said the players were most concerned about the availability of the mid-level exception and sign-and-trades for luxury tax-paying teams and the definition of a tax-paying team." With some movement from the owners "on those technical aspects, the players' negotiators believed they could present a deal that the union membership would embrace despite the massive economic concessions, shorter contracts, smaller raises and other restrictions the owners insisted on to address their dual problems of $300 million in annual losses and competitive imbalance." A source said that the owners' "greatest compromises were in the areas of restricted free agency and the middle class." There was also "some compromise on the issues of sign-and-trades and mid-level exceptions for tax-paying teams" (CBSPORTS.com, 11/26)

Stern doesn’t expect unanimous support
but anticipates both sides will endorse deal

LEGALLY SPEAKING: YAHOO SPORTS' Wojnarowski cited a source as saying that the negotiating session "nearly came undone in the early moments on Friday night" when Kessler told Stern and the NBA’s negotiating team through a speaker phone that the players "wanted to move back to a 51 percent revenue split." Stern, Holt and Silver "termed the proposal 'unacceptable,' and soon left the conference room." Sources said that the players "were feeling out how much leverage their antitrust lawsuits gave them," but it has "long been clear that Stern didn’t have ownership support to go beyond 50 percent" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/26). ESPN.com's Larry Coon noted technically what "transpired in a Manhattan conference room Friday were lawsuit settlement talks, and not labor negotiations." Coon also noted assuming there are "no snags, players' attorney David Boies will ask the Minnesota court to dismiss the lawsuit early next week." The league will "also request the dismissal of the federal lawsuit they filed in New York earlier this year." But before the sides "can officially negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, the players will need to re-certify their union." This will require a vote, "but is expected to pass -- with the players likely following the recommendation of Hunter, Fisher and the union's executive committee" (ESPN.com, 11/26). SI.com's Chris Mannix wrote the "players' lawsuit was impactful," and the "threat of a prolonged court battle -- and potentially $6 billion in damages -- clearly affected the way the league negotiated" (SI.com, 11/26). Univ. of Toledo Law School professor Geoffrey Rapp said the players' antitrust suit "had a huge impact, and anyone who tells you it didn't is either misleading or kidding themselves." Rapp added, "The short version is the leagues need a union or else many of their practices would be declared illegal" (USA TODAY, 11/28). Stern disputed any speculation the litigation spurred the settlement: “For us, the litigation is just something that has to be dealt with. It was not the reason for the settlement” (NBA.com, 11/26).

THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS
: In Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis noted Christmas is when the lockout "would really start getting painful for the owners." What is "most important to the league is keeping all that TV revenue in the vault," which includes $485M a year from ESPN/ABC and $445M a year from TNT. The NBA "would have faced returning the TV money or extending the contracts by a year if the season had been lost" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 11/26). In DC, Mike Wise noted the TV deals "played a huge role" in reaching an agreement. One source said, "Some owners basically said, ‘We don’t want a season if it’s going to be moved past Christmas.’ They were right up against that deadline. That TV money was very important" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/26). The N.Y. DAILY NEWS' Lawrence noted Stern, "in particular, felt it was huge to save the Christmas Day games for the league, which could have pulled the plug on its entire season had a deal not been reached this weekend" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/27). FOXSPORTS.com's Bill Reiter noted the Christmas Day games "have traction, particularly now." They "disprove the notion the NBA is only relevant or interesting during its postseason" (FOXSPORTS.com, 11/27).
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