NBA Union’s Fisher Says Owners, Players Have Never Been Business Partners

The National Basketball Association’s description of its salary cap proposal as a flexible plan is “a total distortion of reality,” said players union President Derek Fisher, who also rejected the idea that owners and players are business partners.

Fisher, a 15-year NBA veteran and head of the National Basketball Players Association, spoke a day after NBA Commissioner David Stern disclosed a salary cap plan that targets player salaries at $62 million per team per season, with a firm ceiling on what franchises could pay with salary exceptions.

Fisher and Billy Hunter, executive director of the union, said they hadn’t heard the $62 million figure until Stern offered specifics to the media.

“It’s not a flex cap. It’s a hard cap,” Fisher, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, told a group of invited reporters yesterday. “It’s flexible as long as you’re below the hard level.”

The union is scheduled to brief its player representatives today in New York, where owners and players tomorrow are scheduled to hold another bargaining session aimed at preventing a work stoppage. The league’s collective bargaining agreement with its players expires June 30.

“Guys asked us, point blank, why are we even meeting,” Fisher said. “Everybody’s at a loss as to how we even begin to close this gap.”

Not Partners

Fisher reserved some of his most critical comments for Stern’s long-held notion that owners and players are partners in the business of basketball.

“We haven’t been partners in this venture. Haven’t been partners since day one,” he said. “We’re the talent. We’re the product. It’s difficult for us, as players, to be asked to be partners in the recovery process.”

Stern responded in an e-mail statement that “players have benefited from the current system more than the teams.”

“ For them it has been a much better partnership,” he said. “We are sorry that the players’ union feels that way, since it doesn’t seem designed to get us to the agreement that is so important to the teams, and we had hoped, the players.”

The league’s most recent proposal calls for a 10-year contract that guarantees the players at least $2 billion a year. The players have offered a five-year contract.

“Most businesses,” Fisher said, “it doesn’t make sense to lock in on a 10-year term.”

$7 Billion Gap

Under terms of the league’s plan, Hunter said owners and players would be more than $7 billion apart. Stern said two days ago that management doesn’t have much more wiggle room for compromise, saying the cupboard is almost bare.

Hunter declined to say whether the players would offer a counterproposal at the next meeting.

Stern has said the league’s 30 teams combined to lose about $300 million this past season. Hunter challenged that assertion, saying a more robust revenue-sharing plan would aid the seven or eight teams that are losing money.

The owners are negotiating a new revenue-sharing agreement apart from their talks with the players.

“They haven’t disclosed an iota of what their revenue- sharing plan would look like,” Hunter said. “Their demands are gargantuan.”

The players have offered to surrender $100 million annually over their five-year offer. Stern has called the concession “modest.”

Fisher also took issue with the league’s demand to keep 8 percent of player salaries from this past season currently held in an escrow account. The money, under terms of the existing contract, is scheduled to be returned to the players in August.

‘Arrogance’

“It speaks to the arrogance they feel with their proposal to go back and reach for those dollars,” Fisher said.

Owners are scheduled to meet in Dallas next week, at which time Hunter said he expects them to vote on whether to authorize a lockout if no agreement is reached. Asked whether he expects owners to offer more concessions in the next meeting, Hunter said, “I’m not very hopeful.”

The NBA locked players out during the 1998-99 season, resulting in lost regular-season games for the first time in league history.

To contact the reporter responsible for this story: Scott Soshnick in New York at ssoshnick@bloomberg.net

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

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