Hunter, flanked by about 50 players in New York for the National Basketball Players Association’s offseason meetings, said the NBA has threatened for two years to impose a lockout when the current labor contract expires one week from today, and that little has changed over that period despite several proposals by both parties.
“I think their real intentions are still what they were before, which is to lock us out in order to break the union and achieve what they want to achieve,” Hunter said at a news conference.
Mike Bass, a spokesman for the NBA, said in an e-mail that the league was “dismayed by the union’s unfortunate rhetoric.”
“A lockout is something that we are trying to avoid by making multiple offers that treat our players fairly,” Bass said.
Hunter’s comments came a day after Derek Fisher, the union’s president and a guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, said the two sides “haven’t been partners in this venture.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern outlined a new proposal to the union two days ago that calls for a 10-year contract guaranteeing players at least $2 billion a year. Hunter said under those terms, the owners and players would be more than $7 billion apart.
The groups will continue negotiations tomorrow and Hunter declined to say whether the players will offer a new plan.
“It will probably take on its own life once we get in there depending on what the atmosphere is in the room,” he said.
A preliminary ruling by a U.S. Court of Appeals panel in St. Louis allowing the National Football League to lock out players while their case proceeds has influenced the NBA’s level of confidence in its own labor fight, Hunter said.
“At this stage, they feel as though they have the upper hand, particularly in view of the current state of bargaining between the NFL and the NFLPA,” he said.
Kevin Garnett, a 16-year NBA veteran whose six-year, $123 million contract helped bring about a 1998 work stoppage that led to the league’s only lost games, said today that the NBA’s main interest is in controlling the players.
Garnett, a forward for the Boston Celtics, cited unilateral decisions by the NBA in recent years, including increases in amounts of fines against players, changing the ball used in games and increased intrusiveness of NBA Entertainment camera crews.
“At the end of the day, it’s about control,” said Garnett, 35. “It’s the domination of the game.”
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