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NBA referees preparing to be locked out for start of season


Posted Sep 10 2009 8:29PM

NBA referees are prepared to be locked out for the start of the season after negotiations with the league on a new contract broke down this week when David Stern ended the latest bargaining session.

No further talks are scheduled -- and when they do resume, it'll be without the commissioner.

Referees spokesman Lamell McMorris accused Stern of acting childish and not negotiating in good faith, so Stern removed himself from the process.

Stern said Thursday he told McMorris that, "In fact if it was going to get personal -- which apparently he's decided to make it by calling news media and leveling a series of inaccurate allegations -- that I would absent myself from the negotiations, which I have."

"Hopefully we'll make a deal with the referees, or we won't, but it won't be on the basis of personality, it'll be on the basis of economics," Stern added.

The league's contract with its referees expired on Sept. 1, and McMorris said the sides have basically agreed on salary issues for a new two-year deal. He said the league wanted to freeze salaries for the first year with a 1 percent increase in year two.

The officials were willing to go along with that, McMorris said, because of the economic difficulties the league is facing, but the NBA was still asking for significant reductions in the referees' budget.

"We've laid $2.5 million back on the table," McMorris said. "Some things we have to be able to go back to our group and to say that we collectively bargained in good faith. Our goal is not to take all the hits, we can't do that."

ESPN.com first reported that talks ended after Stern abruptly halted Tuesday's session at league headquarters. Stern said the officials reneged on something previously agreed upon, but McMorris was critical of the way the commissioner handled things.

Stern said the league would be well represented even without him, but didn't leave much hope that a resolution would come soon.

"On the basis of the last series of proposals, it doesn't appear that there's any point at this time to further negotiations, but obviously it still remains our goal to start this season with our existing referees working," Stern said.

The NBA released a statement later Thursday criticizing the referees union for its attacks through the media, and said the referees backed out of previously agreed upon proposals involving retirement benefits at Tuesday's meeting.

"Then, after we offered additional economic movement in order to progress toward a deal, the NBRA refused to make any additional concessions," NBA general counsel and lead negotiator Rick Buchanan said. "At this point, and after several months of negotiations, all the union has offered to us is minimal concessions that are neither consistent with economic reality nor with the information it is currently distributing to the media."

Referees are due to open their training camp on Sept. 20, and the league's first preseason game is scheduled for Oct. 1 at Utah. Without a deal soon, the NBA will begin the season with replacement officials for the first time since 1995.

The league is seeking cuts in areas such as the referees' benefits, travel budget and their per diems, which Stern said would "bring their numbers in line with other league employees."

McMorris feels there is more to it, with the league possibly trying to rid itself of older referees or perhaps send a strong message to the players, whose collective bargaining agreement with the NBA expires after the 2011 season.

He also said the NBA gave a combined $100,000 in raises, which Stern could not confirm, to the three men who were hired to oversee the referees operations department in the league office following the betting scandal involving former official Tim Donaghy.

Already, the referees will miss next week's two-day seminar with league coaches, and McMorris said the officials will meet again sometime after that.

Officials from the NBA Development League could end up calling NBA games as the league scrambles for replacements. Stern denied McMorris' charge that backup refs were being called even before Tuesday's meeting ended, while McMorris said the league had even called a referee it fired three years ago to see if he would be available.

Even with Stern not involved, McMorris said his side won't come to New York for further talks.

"If the league wants to start up talks again, our door is open, so we'd gladly look forward to meeting them in Washington D.C. for the next meeting," McMorris said. "You can't be disrespectful and childlike and ask us, when you're already cutting our wages and expenses, to use our hard-earned money to come and you're kicking us out of meetings."

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