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 N.B.A. Talks Stall and More Games Are Canceled

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Join date : 2010-11-12

PostSubject: N.B.A. Talks Stall and More Games Are Canceled   Mon Oct 31, 2011 8:13 am

Talks sputtered, games disappeared and frustrations simmered anew Friday afternoon when N.B.A. owners and players moved to the precipice of a deal, then squandered the moment. Any hope for a full season died when the negotiations did.

Commissioner David Stern immediately canceled the rest of the November schedule and declared that an 82-game season was now irretrievably out of reach. The league needed a deal this weekend to have any chance of restoring lost games. No new meetings are scheduled.

“It’s not practical, possible or prudent to have a full season now,” Stern said, looking long-faced after a six-hour bargaining session that once held such promise.

Negotiators had methodically tackled a litany of so-called system issues this week and had tentative agreements on most of them. But the talks collapsed as soon as they turned their attention back to the thorniest item: division of league revenue.

The N.B.A. restated its offer of a 50-50 split. The union restated its request for 52.5 percent. Neither side budged. The meeting ended.

So after 11 meetings and nearly 87 hours at the table this month, the parties were back were they began: hopelessly divided and at odds. This time, it was Stern who accused Billy Hunter, the union’s executive director, of walking away.

“Billy Hunter said that he was not willing to go a penny below 52, that he had been getting many calls from agents,” Stern said. “And he closed up his book and walked out of the room.”

Earlier, Hunter said the owners had essentially issued an ultimatum: “It was ‘50-50, take it or leave it.’ And we just said, ‘Well, today we’re leaving it, like we left it last week.’ ”

The economic divide always promised to be the toughest to bridge, even as the parties found agreement on other key issues, including contract lengths and changes to the luxury-tax system.

The league is asking the players to take a $280 million pay cut from last season, when they earned 57 percent of the league’s revenue. The players’ request for 52.5 percent represents a $180 million annual reduction. Every percentage point is about $40 million.

The players have already agreed to shorter contracts, smaller raises, a more punitive luxury tax and several other new restraints on team spending.

“So we think we gave more than enough,” Hunter said. “And that’s what we constantly said to them: ‘We did what it was you said you needed. We did it. O.K?’ And now all of a sudden, every time we do it, it’s like their eyes got bigger and they want more and more and more. So finally, you just have to shut it down and say, ‘It can’t be.’ ”

That bitter ending to the lockout’s 120th day stood in stark contrast to the smiles and quips and cautious optimism that both sides offered a night earlier. They had been making steady progress on the noneconomic issues, leading both Hunter and Stern to suggest that a resolution was in sight. The N.B.A. even began advising arena officials across the country to hold dates in late April, to extend the regular season and complete an 82-game schedule.

“We held out that joint hope together,” Stern said, “but in light of the breakdown of talks, there will not be a full N.B.A. season under any circumstances. And I say that with apologies to the municipalities in which we play our games, to the workers who earn their living in our buildings, and from businesses around the buildings.”

The month of canceled games represents about $400 million lost to the players and a roughly equal amount for the owners. About $200 million was forfeited when the preseason was canceled. The players will miss their first paychecks around Nov. 16.

Without an 82-game season, the N.B.A.’s projected revenue will decline from the projected $4 billion. Thus, there will be less for everyone to split when a deal is eventually reached. That reality could affect the negotiations, with the league possibly reducing its offer and backing away from tentative agreements on the system issues.

“We’re going to have to recalculate how bad the damage is,” Stern said, predicting that the league’s next offer “will reflect the extraordinary losses that are starting to pile up now.”

The breakdown came after the parties resolved the second-thorniest item — a new luxury-tax formula. The tax will start as a dollar-for-dollar penalty, just as it is now. But it will increase by another 50 cents for every $5 million spent beyond a set threshold — to $1.50 per dollar spent after $5 million, $2 per dollar spent after $10 million, and so on, according to a person who has seen the plan.

There are some system issues yet to be resolved. For instance, the league wants to prevent tax-paying teams from executing sign-and-trade deals or using certain cap exceptions — both measures the union opposes. But those items are minor compared to the revenue split.

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