NBA talks break down; season in limbo

NBA talks break down; season in limbo
October 21, 2011, 2:31 am
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NEW YORK A week that began with such promise for the NBA and players union to strike a deal on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement hit an emphatic wall Thursday, as talks broke off between both sides - with no timetable for when talks will resume.

The impasse was reached when the owners insisted the players agree on a 50-50 split on basketball-related income (BRI) before any other details of a potential deal were discussed, and the players responding by saying they wouldn't commit to a percentage split before knowing what sort of deal would be in place.

"We have certain core beliefs that we have to address that we think are absolutely necessary to achieve before we play NBA basketball," said the league's deputy commissioner, Adam Silver. "And ultimately, we were unable to bridge the gap that separates the two parties."

While some progress was made in the last 30-plus hours of meetings, it was clear that two of the main issues from the beginning - basketball-related income and the system in which it will exists - remain problematic.

Silver said talks broke off over discussing how to divvy up the BRI.

"We made it clear to them yesterday that we were willing to go to 50 percent (on the BRI)," Silver said. "Despite the fact that we suffered enormous losses, we could see our way at a 50-percent deal."

Silver said the union, which had been seeking a 53-percent cut - down from the 57 percent of the BRI they received in the last CBA - reduced their offer to 52.5 percent.

"That's where talks broke off," Silver said. "They made it clear that, if our position was that we're unwilling to move beyond 50 percent, there was nothing else to talk about. That's when discussions broke off today."

Not surprisingly, the union tells a slightly different story.

Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBA players union, said the union would not commit to a 50-percent BRI unless they had a better handle on what type of systematic changes the league was looking to implement in the next CBA.

"If you're pushing the 50-50 (split), there's no way in the world, even if it's feasible, for a 50-50 deal if we don't know what the system is," Hunter said he told NBA officials.

Hunter then said that Peter Holt, owner of the San Antonio Spurs who is also Chair of Labor Relations, told him that the owners wouldn't talk about the system unless the players agreed to the 50-50 split.

"So we then broke it off," Hunter said.

And with that, the NBA season took yet another dip into the abyss of potentially being wiped out entirely.

While the NBA wasn't prepared to announce any more canceled games Thursday, you can bet more are sure to come following Thursday's breakdown in discussions with no timetable for when the two will return to the bargaining table.

With the assistance of federal mediator George Cohen and his assistant, Scot Beckenbaugh, both sides seemed to be moving ever-so-slowly towards a new deal.

But whatever momentum both sides had towards a new CBA seemed to go away once the entire NBA ownership body arrived in town for their annual Board of Governors meetings.

"We came in trying to negotiate, and they came in saying, 'You either accept 50-50, or we're done,' " said Jeffrey Kessler, lead counsel for the union. "Something happened in that Board of Governors meeting. That was not where this committee was before."

Kessler added, "Wednesday we thought we were moving towards a deal. Suddenly today - we spent very little time negotiating today."

After gathering together to put together a proposal for the owners, Kessler said the owners didn't caucus among themselves to discuss it, as they had done in the past.

"They said, 'We don't have to do anything else. We can tell you now. We're at 50 (BRI split) and it has to be our way,' " Kessler recalled. " And they came back and said we will not discuss anything else until you agree to 50-50."

While commissioner David Stern (flu) was not at the meetings, there was a figure that apparently was quite influential among the owners - Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen.

"They were carrying out a mandate that they had been given, and Paul Allen was sent to see that the mandate was carried out," Kessler said.

Regardless of which side you fall on, it's clear the longer this lockout last, the tougher it will be to get a deal done that will salvage the 2011-12 season.

Even getting them back to the bargaining table will be challenging.

"Both sides hopefully won't harden," Holt said. "Right now, it could be tougher than it has been in the past to get back together."