NBA: Owners, players reach tentative agreement
By Brian Mahoney
NEW YORK — Now that there’s a handshake deal on a new labor agreement, NBA Commissioner David Stern and union executives must persuade owners and players to approve it, guaranteeing a Christmas Day tripleheader.
After a 149-day lockout, owners and players reached the tentative deal early Saturday. It comes at a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for both sides, on top of the fans and jobs that were lost during the stalemate. And it leaves the NBA with its second shortened season, with the hope of getting in 66 games instead of a full 82-game schedule.
The lockout isn’t quite over, but it appears the NBA’s nuclear winter will be avoided.
After a marathon 15-hour negotiating session Friday into Saturday, Stern accepted some congratulations, headed for another short night of sleep, then planned to brief his owners on a deal that could change the way they do business.
Players, looking beat and beaten, face a tougher healing process in approving an agreement that significantly limits their earnings.
First, players must drop a lawsuit against the league, reform their disbanded union and approve the handshake deal that was reached shortly after 3 a.m. Saturday. Players’ association executives Derek Fisher and Maurice Evans hardly looked enthused about the agreement as they sat next to executive director Billy Hunter on the same side of a conference table as Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the league’s labor relations committee.
But at least they weren’t sitting in a courtroom, where they appeared headed less than two weeks earlier.
Just 12 days after talks broke down and Stern declared the NBA could be headed to a “nuclear winter,” he sat next to Hunter to announce the 10-year deal, with either side able to opt out after the sixth year.
Owners relented slightly on their previous insistence that players receive no more than 50 percent of basketball-related income after they were guaranteed 57 percent in the old collective bargaining agreement. The target is still a 50-50 split, but with a band from 49 percent to 51 percent that gives the players a better chance of reaching the highest limit than previously proposed.
Owners were warned on a conference call Friday night that a deal did not seem imminent, a person briefed on the details told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Then, shortly past 3 a.m., many league officials received an e-mail from Silver saying they had a deal — news that apparently caught many off guard.
Silver’s e-mail, the person said, did not contain any specifics about the terms of the tentative agreement.
Those details were expected to be provided on a late-afternoon conference call of the labor relations committee Saturday. The agenda was expected to include when franchises may begin contacting their players again and when team facilities could re-open in advance of training camps.
Stern said he expects the labor committee to endorse the deal and recommend it to the full board.
The players’ side has revealed little of its feelings about the deal, noting the pending antitrust litigation in its desire for keeping details quiet. But players always preferred to be on the court, rather than in it, and now they finally have the chance.
“I think it was the ability of the parties to decide it was necessary to compromise and to kind of put this thing back together in some kind of way, to put an end to the litigation and everything that that entails,” Hunter said.
Players filed an amended antitrust lawsuit in Minnesota on Monday that could have earned the players billions but surely would have come at the cost of at least the entire 2011-12 season.
Both sides said all along the only way to a deal was through negotiating. They got back together Tuesday, setting the way for the pivotal meeting that began Friday.
“I think we saw a willingness of both sides to compromise yet a little more and to reach this agreement,” Silver said. “We look forward to opening on Christmas Day and we are excited to bring NBA basketball back and that’s most important.”
Both sides are expected to OK the pact, which would pave the way for training camps and free agency to open simultaneously Dec. 9.
President Barack Obama gave a thumbs-up when told about the tentative settlement after he finished playing basketball at Fort McNair in Washington on Saturday morning.
Because the union disbanded, a new collective bargaining agreement can only be completed once the union has reformed. Drug testing and other issues still must be negotiated between the players and the league, which also must dismiss its lawsuit regarding the legality of the lockout.
“We’re very pleased we’ve come this far,” Stern said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
When the NBA returns, owners hope to find the type of parity that exists in the NFL, where the small-market Green Bay Packers are the current champions. The NBA has been dominated in recent years by the biggest spenders, with Boston, Los Angeles and Dallas winning the last four titles.
“I think it will largely prevent the high-spending teams from competing in the free-agent market the way they’ve been able to in the past. It’s not the system we sought out to get in terms of a harder cap, but the luxury tax is harsher than it was. We hope it’s effective,” Silver said.
“We feel ultimately it will give fans in every community hope that their team can compete for championships.”
Owners locked out the players July 1, and the sides spent most of the summer and fall battling over the division of revenues and other changes owners wanted in a new collective bargaining agreement. They said they lost hundreds of millions of dollars in each year of the former deal, ratified in 2005, and they wanted a system where the big-market teams wouldn’t have the ability to outspend their smaller counterparts.
Players fought against those changes, not wanting to see any teams taken out of the market when they became free agents.
“This was not an easy agreement for anyone. The owners came in having suffered substantial losses and feeling the system wasn’t working fairly across all teams,” Silver said. “I certainly know the players had strong views about expectations in terms of what they should be getting from the system. It required a lot of compromise from both parties’ part.”
Stern denied the antitrust litigation was a factor in accelerating a deal, but things happened relatively quickly after the players filed.
“For us the litigation is something that just has to be dealt with,” Stern said. “It was not the reason for the settlement. 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. And it’s always been our goal to reach a deal that was fair to both sides and get us playing as soon as possible, but that took a little time.”
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The Associated Press