National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern said progress in the league’s labor impasse will hinge on whether players recognize that problems in the current contract need to be corrected.
The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement expires June 30 and the league and its players union disagree on issues such as percentage of shared revenue, minimum age requirements and changes in salary cap rules.
Stern, in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Conversations With Judy Woodruff” to be broadcast this weekend, said the current labor deal pays out a percentage of revenue to the players that’s too high. The NBA has projected losses of about $350 million this season and Stern has said that owners want to reduce player salaries by as much as $800 million annually.
“The key to resolving it is the players realizing that it’s been a great run,” Stern said. “There has to be a correction that enables the players to continue to be the highest-paid players in all of sport, to allow the owners to make a profit, and to allow our fans to believe that we have a system where all 30 teams can compete.”
Dan Wasserman, a union spokesman, said negotiated salaries for players have declined three years in a row, while league revenue has been at “all-time highs” during the same period.
“Such a system and results work to the benefit of the NBA and its owners,” Wasserman said in an e-mail. “A lockout is not a cure or a correction, it simply undermines the league’s current business momentum.”
While the two sides are far apart in negotiations, the commissioner said the focus remains on reaching an agreement, not imposing a lockout. The NBA’s last work stoppage was a 191-day lockout in 1998 that resulted in a 50-game season and damaged the league’s popularity.
“It would be a great disappointment to our fans, to our players and to our owners,” Stern said. “So it’s not something that we’re looking at in an inviting way, and we’re not talking about a lockout right now. What we’re talking about is reaching a deal.”
NBA owners and the National Basketball Players Association representatives are scheduled to meet during All-Star weekend Feb. 18-20 in Los Angeles.
The average player salary was $5.85 million during the 2009-10 season, according to the NBA, the highest in any professional North American sports league. The players’ union has said the current collective bargaining agreement is working, citing an increase in television revenue as well as ticket and merchandise sales.
Little progress has been made in the labor talks since players rejected the league’s offer during the All-Star break a year ago. Wasserman said the players association never received a response from the NBA after their July proposal.
Union Executive Director Billy Hunter said he’s tried to prepare players for the loss of the 2011-12 season.
“Our players are well aware and convinced that it will be a lockout and may be a protracted lockout,” Hunter said in a Bloomberg Radio interview on Feb. 4. “We’re trying to negotiate a reasonable deal that’s favorable to both sides, but we just can’t seem to move in that direction.”
Hunter helped negotiate the NBA’s last two labor deals, including in 2005, when an agreement was reached about one week before the previous contract was set to expire.
With four months until the deadline this year, Stern said he’s optimistic about reaching a consensus.
“It’s early,” Stern said. “That gives people of goodwill a lot of time to get their dancing and prancing and posturing out of the way and hopefully sit down and do their best to make a deal.”