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Owners demand 50-50 deal for meeting; players balk

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst
Posted Oct 7 2011 7:12PM - Updated Oct 8 2011 3:31PM

The National Basketball Players Association claimed on Friday that it has offered to meet with the NBA to resume negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement before Monday's deadline for the cancellation of the first two weeks of the 2011-12 regular season, but the league said any meeting would have to be preceded by the union's accepting the league's 50-50 proposal on the split of Basketball Related Income.

Two sources with union ties said that NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter made the offer in a Friday phone call with top league officials, but was told a meeting would require the precondition of accepting the 50-50 deal, which the union rejected in the last formal negotiating session between the sides on Tuesday. The union rejected the precondition, according to the two sources. That means that failing a last-minute change of heart, there will be no face-to-face talks before Monday. NBA Commissioner David Stern said after Tuesday's session that the league would cancel the first two weeks of the regular season on Monday if there was not a tenative agreement on a new CBA.

Hunter will, instead, be in Los Angeles on Monday for a regional union meeting to update players on the state of the negotiations. Other union officials will meet with players in Miami on Saturday for similar updates. There is not expected to be any kind of preliminary vote for players at the two meetings on whether they would be amenable to the 50-50 concept, according to the sources.

"We told the union today that we were willing to meet as early as Sunday," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said in a statement. " We also advised them that we were unwilling to move above the 50-50 split of revenues that was discussed between the parties on Tuesday but that we wanted to meet with them to discuss the many remaining open issues. The union declined."

Top officials from the NBA and union have been in contact via phone for the last three days, according to sources on both sides of the discussions. But with the Yom Kippur holiday beginning at sundown Friday and lasting until Saturday, and Hunter's reluctance to do business on Sunday, the chance of a face to face meeting before Monday's deadline is shrinking. The chance of the league turning off the clock before Monday -- when cancellation of the first two weeks of the regular season will occur -- is also small.

Initially, Hunter and union sources claimed that the league's 50-50 offer came with the condition that the league be able to first take off $350 million in expenses off the top for its arena maintenance costs, growing endeavors such as NBA China and other deductions, meaning the actual split would be 53-47 in favor of the league. But Fisher and Hunter's letter to the players on Wednesday indicated the NBA's offer was for a straight 50-50 split without the $350 million deduction, and a union source on Friday confirmed the "clean" 50-50 proposal. The union, however, indicated after the last formal meeting Tuesday, and reiterated in the Wednesday letter, that it thought that split was unacceptable.

"The reality is that we believe that we're the most significant and important asset to this particular business," Fisher said Tuesday. "And with the level of revenue that will be continue to be generated as this business grows, that there's just a fair place that the compensation should start for this particular group. We're not saying it should be all ours. We're not saying we're the only thing that matter. But it's just a fair place that that should be for the talent and the skill that drive the business. That's, conceptually, where we are."

The current gap between the two sides is basically three percentage points, with each point roughly representing $40 million. Union members at the last two meetings have vociferously demanded the union remain at 53 percent. One player who suggested "50-50 is better than nothing" last Friday was shouted down by his colleagues, according to a source. But the union also indicated a willingness to go as low as 52 percent if the league made concessions on system issues such as salary cap exceptions and a lowering of the league's proposal to increase the luxury tax on teams that exceed the luxury tax threshold from its current $1 for every dollar teams are above the threshold to as much as $4 for every dollar.

But going above 50 percent will be very difficult for Stern, with several owners queasy about going even that high. He has always been a great vote-counter, so it's unlikely he'd have made the proposal if he didn't have enough votes to pass it. But it would almost certainly not be a unanimous vote on the part of management.

Conversely, it's going to be hard for Hunter to go below 52 percent, even if the league provides system concessions. The powerful "Gang of Seven" agents that had been urging Hunter to pursue decertification of the union are still strongly in favor of not budging on the 53 percent demand, and they still directly or indirectly represent enough players that they could conceivably force a decertification vote. If 30 percent of the players signed a petition authorizing a vote, players would then cast votes with the National Labor Relations Board. A simple majority of the 450 players would be required for decertification. reported Wednesday that the agents -- Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Mark Bartlestein, Dan Fegan, Henry Thomas, Leon Rose and Jeff Schwartz -- backed off their decertification stance in a conference call Wednesday.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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