NBA Agrees With Players’ Union That Labor Discussions Are ‘Very Far Apart’

The National Basketball Association and its players union said they remain “very far apart” after two days of negotiations on a new labor accord, with the current one set to expire in three weeks.

“We’re not where we started, but we’re not anywhere near where we need to be,” NBA Commissioner David Stern told reporters after four hours of talks yesterday at a Dallas hotel that followed a five-hour session two days ago. “We’re not any place close to a deal.”

The talks, which have totaled 13 hours in both NBA Finals cities, will continue on June 14 in Miami if there is a Game 7 or in New York if the series has concluded. Another session also has been scheduled in New York for June 17. The best-of-seven championship between the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks resumes tonight in Dallas with the teams tied at two games apiece.

With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire on June 30, both Stern and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Derek Fisher, president of the National Basketball Players Association, used the phrase “very far apart” to characterize the state of the talks. Billy Hunter, the union’s executive director, called the two sides “miles apart.”

The talks this week included almost all of the NBA’s labor relations committee as well as the executive committee of the union. The two sides have discussed the split of basketball- related income between the players and owners, of which 57 percent currently goes to the players, and issues such as what type of salary cap can work in a new labor accord.

Each side has made multiple proposals and each will put verbal projections and proposals made this week in writing before the next session, Stern said.

Teams Losing Money

Team owners want the changes because the league expects to lose $300 million this season, Stern said in April. Twenty-two of the 30 franchises are expected to lose money, Adam Silver, the NBA’s deputy commissioner, said.

“We’ve actually come to a point where we feel we can get on somewhat the same page with that level of loss,” Fisher said, adding that the union still says that some of the costs teams have cited are unrelated to player expenses.

The negotiations center on three major components: spending on player payrolls, the length of contracts, and whether they should be guaranteed.

The NBA wants to limit payrolls to $45 million per team annually. Fisher reiterated that the union is “adamantly against a hard salary-cap system” and wants clubs to be allowed to spend more under some circumstances.

“It’s very clear that if we don’t agree to what we’ve been offered so far, then we’re probably facing a lockout,” Fisher said.

Length of Deal

Hunter yesterday said the owners are asking for a 10-year deal, while the union wants a shorter accord. The current contract is six years.

Both parties are watching the National Football League’s labor dispute, which became a legal battle after the league locked out its players in March.

That dispute, which could last for months, is weighing on the NBA negotiations, said Jeff Kessler, an attorney for both the NBA’s and NFL’s unions.

“Everyone in basketball will watch what happens in football,” Kessler said.

Hunter also said one of the owners ended the bargaining session by expressing pessimism that the two sides could reach an accord before June 30.

“I’m forced to share that sentiment,” Hunter said. “It’s going to be a difficult struggle.”

While it might not lead to lost games next season, the end- of-month deadline is very real to the NBA, according to Stern.

“We very much feel the weight of the deadline,” he said. “We know that the 30th itself is a time when, if we don’t have a deal, things will begin to deteriorate at a faster pace, and we don’t want that to happen.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net.

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