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NBA Makes Labor Proposal With Ultimatum

The National Basketball Association met with its players for about nine hours under the direction of a federal mediator, offering a new labor proposal that if not accepted by Nov. 9 would be rescinded and replaced with an offer much less favorable.

The proposal made to the National Basketball Players Association was unacceptable and an attempt to “strong-arm” the players, union attorney Jeffrey Kessler said following the talks, which began at around 5 p.m. New York time yesterday at a midtown Manhattan hotel.

Under the new proposal, players would earn between 49 percent and 51 percent of basketball-related income depending upon league growth, NBA Commissioner David Stern said at a news conference. The proposal would drop to 47 percent after the deadline if players chose not to accept it.

Stern also said the league adopted five suggestions made by George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, related to the system the league operates under. If not accepted, the league would revert to offering players a “flex cap” that limits the high and low ends of the salary cap -- the ceiling on player payrolls.

“We want to allow enough time for the union to consider our most recent proposal and we are hopeful that they accept it,” Stern said. “But it doesn’t aid the negotiation process to just leave it hanging out there, so we’ve indicated where we’ll be going if we can’t make a deal.”

‘Sad Day’

Union President Derek Fisher, speaking at a separate news conference that followed, called it a “very frustrating, sad day.” He said the players offered to lower their take to 51 percent, with one percent from that portion dedicated to benefiting retired players.

“We will, as a group, assess the situation,” Fisher said. “But right now we’ve been given the ultimatum and our answer is that’s not acceptable.”

Union Executive Director Billy Hunter left the hotel prior to the news conference because he was “under the weather,” spokesman Dan Wasserman said.

The most recent previous talks left the two sides 2 1/2 percentage points apart, with the league offering a 50/50 split of basketball-related income and the players seeking 52.5 percent. The players made 57 percent under the last labor deal and Stern has said that the league’s 30 owners lost a collective $300 million last season. The NBA had about $4.3 billion in revenue last season.

‘47 Percent Highway’

The union used the “wildest, most unimaginable favorable projections” to determine that even under the best of circumstances, the league’s proposal would only bring the players’ cut to 50.2 percent, Kessler said.

“They knew today they were going to stick to 50, essentially 50.2 (percent), they were going to make almost no movement in the system and then they were going to say, ‘My way or the 47 percent highway,’” Kessler said. “These are professional basketball players, the finest athletes in the world. How do you think they feel about threats? How do you think they feel about efforts at intimidation?”

Yesterday was the 128th day since the NBA locked players out after the previous collective bargaining agreement expired July 1.

Stern announced on Oct. 28, the last time talks collapsed, that a full 82-game season would not be possible. The league already has wiped out the entire November schedule for a season that was set to begin Nov. 1.

In recent days, each side showed signs of disharmony. After taking criticism on Twitter that league owners were greedy, Miami Heat owner Micky Arison responded that the person was “barking at the wrong owner.” He was fined $500,000 by Stern for violating a league-mandated gag order.

About 50 players, unhappy with the progress and direction of the talks, held a conference call with an antitrust attorney on Nov. 3 to discuss the merits of decertifying the union, the New York Times and other media outlets reported.

Three straight days of mediated talks under Cohen that ended Oct. 20 failed to produce a deal, with Cohen saying in a statement that “no useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time.”

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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