Folks, we may not be seeing basketball for a long, long while. NBA fans should be wearing black on Friday in mourning.
Saying he was “saddened on behalf of the game” NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said that talks had broken off between the NBA owners and its players association. No new talks are scheduled, with Spurs owner Peter Holt saying both sides could use a breather. (David Stern was not at the meeting due to having the flu.)
This came after about 30 hours of negotiations over three days led by federal mediator George Cohen. Silver said that Cohen and the mediation team wanted to keep going but both the owners and players saw too big a gap and wanted to call it quits. The players denied this, saying they wanted to stay at the table. So to be clear, the two sides can’t even agree on how the meeting ended. Cohen basically threw up his hands in disgust. It’s that bad.
No new cancellation of NBA games has been announced, but you can get that is coming in the next few days. Already the first two weeks of the season (through Nov. 14) have been cancelled and games beyond Thanksgiving are likely on the block. NBA union president Derek Fisher talked about that in his remarks after the meetings.
“This is not in any way about ego,” he said. “There are a lot of people’s livelihoods at stake separate from us.”
The issue — as it has been since the start — is money.
Specifically, the split of revenue, called basketball related income (or BRI). That is money the league and its teams take in from ticket sales, national television contracts, part of local television contracts, part of luxury box revenues, even part of the beer you buy at the games. It came to nearly $4 billion dollars last season.
The players, who got 57 percent of BRI under the old labor deal, came down to 52.5 percent, according to Silver. However, the owners didn’t want to go higher than a 50/50 split, he said.
“What Peter (Holt) and our other owners made clear to the players is that is as far as we would go,” Silver said.
“We think that’s a fair split,” Holt added.
Players union officials said after the meeting they were stunned by the owners “take it or leave it” position, thinking this was a negotiation. Fisher said that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said the players need to “trust him.” (Good luck with that one.)
Union leaders said clearly something happened at the Board of Governor’s meeting (all the owners) that took place earlier in the day and the league negotiators came in with a hard-line stance. The union’s feeling is that it is the one giving up real dollars — from 57 percent down to 52.5 percent would be about $180 million next season — while the owners keep taking and not really talking.
The two sides had discussed “bands” where, for example, the players could get between 49 and 51 percent of BRI depending on how much came in. However, while their bands were close they never overlapped and neither side was willing to budge.
Right now, there seems to be little trust and a lot of animosity between the two sides. It’s ugly, really ugly. The owners want the players to feel the hurt of no paychecks, the players want the owners to feel the hurt of no revenue and angry fan bases. What both sides seem not to realize is that the fans are angry with both of them and the longer the game is shuttered the longer it will be before fans come back.
This is going to kill any momentum the league has built and if the two sides take much of a break David Stern’s gut feeling that Christmas Day games could be threatened could become a reality.
This is a dark, dark day for NBA fans.