SBJ/June 10 - 16, 2002/Labor Agents

Hunter says hoops union will not support luxury tax in next go-round

National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter said the union is not going to support the luxury tax on owners whose payrolls exceed certain levels in the next bargaining session with the NBA.

Hunter also indicated that he might want changes in the current 10 percent escrow tax on player salaries.

The current collective-bargaining agreement expires at the end of the 2003-04 season, with an option for the owners to renew until the end of the 2004-05 season if certain conditions are met.

Hunter

"I am hoping we can avoid an impasse," Hunter said in a speech before the Sports Lawyers Association annual meeting in Phoenix earlier this month. "I am hoping we won't have to go to the mat again.

"I know as I stand here now [that] my position is not going to be one that is going to be supportive of the tax. My players have indicated to me to a man that they don't like the tax, and they don't like the escrow either, but they are definitely not appreciative of the tax."

The NBA and NBPA reached an agreement on a six-year collective-bargaining agreement in January 1999 after a seven-month lockout. Under the terms of the deal, after three years — starting this season — players would be subject to a 10 percent escrow tax on their salaries if total salaries and benefits exceed 55 percent of basketball-related revenue. The deal also provides that owners who spent above certain payroll limits would be subject to a luxury tax.

"We are still trying to gauge ... whether or not the players are going to lose the entire 10 percent," Hunter said. "We anticipate there is probably going to be a shortfall and [the players] will probably receive some refund. We can't predict how much it is going to be."

Richard Buchanan, NBA general counsel, while not commenting directly on Hunter's comments, said at a later panel at the conference that the new collective-bargaining agreement "worked perfectly" in controlling players' salaries. "We hope we can negotiate a successor agreement that contains similar elements," he said.

Hunter, during his speech, noted that the league recently asked the union to talk about expanding the first round of the NBA playoffs from a five-game series to seven games. Hunter said the union refused to negotiate that, in part because there was no immediate benefit for the players and because he wanted to save the issue for later.

"One of the things I refuse to do is negotiate on a piecemeal basis," he said. "If we resolve [such issues] now, I don't know where it puts us two years from now when we really have to go to the table."

Other issues Hunter has refused to discuss outside of "global" discussions on a new agreement are the league's interest in an age limit for players and the league's desire to "do away with guaranteed contracts," Hunter said.

Hunter noted that the WNBA's collective-bargaining agreement expires at the end of this season, and he doesn't expect a deal soon. Hunter predicted that the WNBA "negotiations wouldn't really become serious until April or May of next year, when we are on the threshold of the next season."

Hunter said he didn't think the female basketball players had the same "staying power" or "temerity" or "tenacity" as the men, partly because they could make more money playing in Europe.

Hunter said he sees the NBA expanding internationally in the next three to five years, with the NBPA serving as the union for those players.

DID BARNETT SPUR NEW NHLPA AGENT PRACTICE? NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow indicated that former IMG agent Mike Barnett's decision to become general manager of the Phoenix Coyotes prompted a new policy at the union.

Goodenow

The union is now asking agents to voluntarily check a box on papers they file with the union stating that if they do resign as agents they will not take a position with an NHL club or NHL management for at least nine months.

"We had one very high-profile agent this last year terminate his relationship with an agency and join a club," Goodenow said in a speech before the Sports Lawyers Association in Phoenix. "That club is based here in this city, in fact."

Goodenow said Barnett's decision to join management "created very many problems for players. ... I can tell you that there was a unanimous response by players who said, 'Wow, this just doesn't feel right. Instinctually, this doesn't look right. We're uncomfortable.' "

Barnett did not return phone calls for comment.

Goodenow said the new policy has generated a mixed reaction from agents. "Some agents have been fine with that and, of course, some agents have been very bothered by it, and that's no surprise," he said.

Contact Liz Mullen with labor and agent stories at lmullen@amcity.com.

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