NBA Shutdown Looms

WASHINGTON, May 19 - A National Basketball Association shutdown over labor issues moved a major step closer to reality Wednesday as talks broke off between owners and players with stinging words from both sides.
Six weeks before the June 30 expiration of a deal forged after a bitter 1998 shutdown, NBA commissioner David Stern and National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter again threaten NBA armegeddon.
We're making every effort to get a deal done,'' Hunter said. We have to adopt a position. If we don’t get a deal and we have to go to the mat, we go to the mat.’’
Hunter noted that a labor shutdown similar to the one which wiped out the entire 2004-2005 National Hockey League season would scuttle the NBA’s worldwide growth plans.
The thing to do is get a deal done and move on,'' Hunter said. They have this global push coming up. The last thing the NBA needs is another lockout.’’
Just minutes after Stern and Hunter sat side-by-side before US lawmakers and vowed to continue discussions regarding Stern’s plans for tougher anti-doping measures, NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik was declaring a halt to talks.
Since we are at a loss as to how we can possibly reach a new deal that is in any way consistent with the principal terms that we have been discussing for many months, there are no further meetings scheduled at this time,'' he said. Stern has said the existing deal needs only minor tweaks but Hunter has a different view. One man’s tweak is another man’s grab. They are doing more than tweaking,’’ Hunter said. The deal is within reach. The issue is just facing reality. What you want and what you need are something we can argue. I don’t contend they need much. I contend the league is working. The league is making money. TV ratings are up. There are all sorts of positive indicators.’’
Granik charged that the union, after meeting with a group of player agents in April, informed the NBA it could no longer agree to a previously-committed five-year rule on length of contracts. Then, last week, after promising a written proposal to form the basis of a new agreement, the union instead advised us orally that it needed to backtrack on several other essential terms that had already been resolved,’’ Granik said.
Among contentious issues this time are reducing the maximum contract length, trimming annual salary hike percentages of long-term deals and raising the minimum age for NBA players.
It's a give and take. If we give something, we expect something in return,'' Hunter said. We submitted a comprehensive proposal. Some parts of it they liked. Some parts they didn’t.
From their perspective, they think we are close enough. We aren't making the progress they thought we should be making. But we may be as close as we're going to get.'' Stern, who wanted a new deal before the end of the season and said this was a key week in talks, said during an NBA playoff telecast that he had downgraded his assessment of achieving that goal from optimistic’’ to hopeful''. A meeting planned Tuesday never took place. Union lawyers and NBA officials met last Thursday to discuss proposals to replace a seven-year deal that came in January 1999 after players were locked out for more than six months. Luxury taxes imposed to keep clubs from free spending on stars and escrow payments to ensure salaries never climbed too far from revenues were items won by Stern when the players pushed for a deal to save a half-season. If he got everything he wanted in 1998, why are we fighting now? Just extend the deal,’’ Hunter said. What else have the players got to give?'' Asked about the possibility of another bitter divide between owners and players, Hunter replied, We’re not going to get ugly. They know what the position of the players is. We don’t have to get ugly.’’
Stern and Hunter will talk before a seperate group of US lawmakers Thursday and face more questions about the NBA’s future as well as his plan to impose year-round random doping tests and toughen banishments for violators.
Hunter, who must go along with any deal unless a proposed law is passed imposing outside rules, said the league can be trusted to police itself despite now testing veterans for steroids only during October training camps.
We're involved in a multi-million-dollar business,'' Hunter said. We can monitor ourselves. I don’t particularly welcome government intervention.’’