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A week of steady labor progress ended with dour looks all around after Friday's talks ended early.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Cut off at every turn, union has one choice: Take the deal

Posted Oct 31 2011 6:46AM - Updated Oct 31 2011 8:37PM

The NBA's players are out of moves, like Jonathan Poe, the chess prodigy who ultimately had to give in to Josh Waitzkin, an even better prodigy, who saw the end of their match 12 moves before Poe did in "Searching For Bobby Fischer". In similar ways this NBA lockout has been predestined, the owners knowing exactly what they were going to get, and how, and when, and the union, full of very smart and good chess players itself, is trying desperately to avoid where it is now, 12 moves from oblivion, with nothing it can do about it.

The union must take the deal now. For it will take a far worse deal a month from now, or later, and lose half a billion or more in the process.

No NLRB ruling nor decertification nor Solidarity Forever chant is going to change that now. The NBA's owners are not looking for a decision; they want a knockout, and they're going to get it. They will blow up the season if they don't like the deal, and they're going to, unless the union folds its 2-3 hand with the flop coming, calls it a day, gets this season started by mid-December and lives to fight again. It is out of moves.

The union has made the argument that revenue sharing is as important for the future health of the league as its players' givebacks. But the league has made it clear that it won't release the totality of how it will enhance revenue sharing until after the CBA is resolved. The players must give first.

In the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league is going to get, at minimum, a 50-50 split of Basketball-Related Income with the players, and a system with severe restrictions on teams that exceed the luxury tax threshold, from not being able to use many (if any) cap exceptions to being limited in their ability to make trades. Or the new CBA will allow teams over the threshold those exceptions, but take 53 percent of BRI to the players' 47. Those are the choices now, and they will only get worse, because now that a month of the season is officially gone, and $800 million is down the tubes, there's no reason for the league to stay at 50-50, and it won't.

The players aren't going to get 52, or 51, or 50.5, or 50.000001, and if they hold out for those numbers, they're not going to have a season. You'd have to be crazy not to see that now, so it's this for the players: take the deal this week or next, or lose the season. If they are willing to die on principle, they wouldn't be the first. But they will die, in the metaphorical sense.

This is what Video the union's executive director Billy Hunter meant Friday afternoon when he said the league "moved" back to 47. Those were the choices the league laid out to the union in Friday's disheartening session, according to numerous sources. Fifty-fifty with almost nothing for the tax threshold-breakers, or 53-47 for the league with the negotiations the two sides had worked out all week.

"Every time we try to make a deal," a member of the union's negotiating committee said Friday evening, "they try to go for the jugular."

The union agreed to the league's concept that there should be harsher tax penalties for teams that exceed the threshold, and the compromise came relatively easy -- $1.50 on the first $5 million a team exceeded the threshold, exactly between the NBA's initial offer of $1.75 on the first $5 million and the union's $1.25 on the first $5 million, as we reported Friday on GameTime and Teams would then pay $1.75 for the next $5 million they're over the cap, between $5 million and $10 million over the threshold.

The New York Times had the rest of the plan in its Sunday editions: $2.50 for the next $5 million over (between $10 and $15 million over the tax), and $3.25 for the next $5 million (between $15 and $20 million over the tax). The players agreed to that, and thus a team like the Lakers who finished last season $20 million over the tax threshold -- and paid $20 million in penalties (dollar for dollar) under the old system -- would pay $45 million in penalties under the new one. The union also agreed to kill the bi-annual exception for teams over the tax threshold.

The league had compromised on the luxury tax, too. It had initially proposed that no team be able to pay the tax two times in a five-year period. But it backed off of that, adding a third year for luxury payers in a five-year period -- though those teams will have to pay additional taxes on the first $5 million they exceed the threshold in the fourth and fifth years.

And the league also agreed to keep a smaller mid-level exception in place for teams under the tax threshold. It also agreed to the union's proposal of five-year deals for Bird free agents and four-year deals for non-Birds, instead of its own four and three proposals, respectively.

Slowly, with both sides compromising, the deal was being done -- 14 hours Wednesday, seven-and-a-half Thursday. But it was getting done. There were compromises on both sides, and both sides could see the finish line; perhaps as early as Saturday, but surely by Monday or Tuesday. There was one more compromise to be made, and then you'd have basketball again. And then, something changed. Whether owners on the Labor Relations Committee got their backs up Thursday night or Friday morning, something changed.

One very senior team official had said Thursday night that even though the outside world was hopeful, he expected owners to hold at 50-50 and go no further, even though the conventional wisdom would seem to indicate the deal would be a compromise somewhere around 51.25 percent for the players -- between the owners' 50-50 offer and the players' current 52.5 percent stance.

"That's not the one that has the votes," the official said. "I think they're going to get 50-50. That's as far as they'll stretch."

And that was, indeed, as far as they stretched -- and even that came with conditions that the players could not swallow. But they will have to if they want to play this season. The players say it's unfair that they've moved so far, from 57 percent of BRI in the old deal to 54.5 percent, and then 53, and 52.5, that they've already agreed to $180 million per year in salary givebacks, $1.8 billion over 10 years if they accept the league's terms.

But this isn't about fair. This is about the NBA putting its house back in order -- naked, real-world realpolitik. If you understand nothing else about these negotitations, understand this: this isn't just about money, at least not totally; this is about re-establishing who's in charge.

For three years, starting in 2008, NBA teams twisted themselves into pretzels to clear cap space for the free-agent class of 2010. No single group of players ever wielded more brute force than that one, headlined by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amar'e Stoudemire. On the mere hope of getting James, the Knicks basically went into receivership for 36 months. The Bulls similarly cleared the decks; having lucked into Derrick Rose via the 2007 Draft, Chicago dumped the likes of John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich for almost nothing while it waited. Miami became a JUCO team for two seasons, while Riles and Andy Elisburg -- the smartest cap guy in the league -- bided their time and worked their spreadsheets.

And James lorded it over them, making them come to him in Ohio those first two weeks in July last year, then making the whole league watch his Decision on the Four-Letter Network, reality TV writ large, making all these billionaires and multi-millionaires nothing more than pawns, waiting for LeBron Trump to tell them who was fired and who was hired. Dan Gilbert went Comic Sans Crazy as his franchise lost $100 million in worth in the blink of an eye, and it scared the other owners out of their minds. It ticked them off, too.

Carmelo Anthony -- also, like James, Wade and Bosh a member of the Draft class of 2003 -- would wield his cudgel a year later, holding the Nuggets hostage for more than six months before he got traded to the team he wanted to be traded to all along, the Knicks (who, coincidentally, signed Stoudemire after missing out on Bosh, Wade and James). And the owners in small markets, already mad at the Commish for not having more "robust" (the league's favorite word on this topic) revenue sharing, already feeling like they were falling further behind, got their backs up. The Jazz didn't even wait for Deron Williams to humiliate them, sending him on his way to the Nets a year before they had to.

But the Players' Spring has ended, cracked down with brute force, and now their options are bad or worse, and bad is on the 3:30 train out of town. They can either go through the motions of two more months of negotiations, and capitulate in late December or early January, as happened in the '98 lockout, or they can grit their teeth and take Version I or II of what's on the table now. (If they asked me, I'd take the 50-50 and let Jim and Jeanie Buss figure out how to fill their roster. Of course, they haven't asked me.)

The extremely senior team official says although he has reservations about the 50-50 split, his team will not vote against it if the union capitulates. I didn't ask him, but he surely can't believe getting $280 million back per season from the players -- which would cover 93 percent of the league's claimed $300 million losses last season, and $2.8 billion over 10 years -- is a bad deal. He knows it isn't. We all know. This is target practice.

You will certainly hear in the coming days that there are dozens of players who will take 50-50 now if the union puts it up for a vote -- formal, informal, whatever -- and you wonder how long Derek Fisher and Hunter can hold out, even as those powerful agents are pushing them to hold the line, hold 52 percent, that far and no further. There is likely time to make up at least some of those canceled November games down the road, and that will be a powerful force on the union as well, and although there were no communications between the sides this weekend, the pattern is that a blowup is followed by a meeting within a few days, and that's probably what will happen again this week.

The union doesn't have much choice, now.

"The (bleep's) chess, it ain't checkers," Alonzo Harris says near the end of "Training Day". Yes, the bleep's chess -- whether it's a crooked L.A. detective playing it, or a 10-year-old boy, or the 69-year-old commissioner of the National Basketball Association. Each one of them is a master, and each one sees the end for his opponent coming, 12 moves away, and there is nothing the players can do about it.


Blazers gazing toward Big D to fill vacancy?

Meanwhile, the collapse of talks is holding up teams that still have front-office and assistant coach vacancies.

The Blazers continue to keep their GM search under tight wraps, having told all of the candidates they'd already interviewed over the summer that they were going in another direction and would be looking for executives who'd been in the GM chair for a long time. And the names that many outside of Portland (no one in the 503 is talking, of course) have attached to the job are Utah's Kevin O'Connor and Sacramento's Geoff Petrie. And O'Connor's and Petrie's track records would make them top candidates anywhere.

Last week, though, front-office types began to believe the Blazers might also be doing due diligence on Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson, who helped turn the Mavs from an offense-dominant team that his father, Don, coached to initial success, into a championship team that emphasized defense under coach Rick Carlisle.

Portland president Larry Miller declined comment this weekend, but there's no concrete evidence that the Blazers have asked for permission to speak with Nelson.

The Blazers cleaned out their front office during and after the 2009-10 season, first firing assistant general manager Tom Penn for mysterious and still-unexplained reasons in March, then firing respected GM Kevin Pritchard the day after the 2010 Draft, having let him twist in the wind for weeks before making the move. Pritchard's replacement, former Thunder assistant GM Rich Cho, lasted just a year, after owner Paul Allen met with him in Europe to make sure he was the right fit and after the Blazers lauded the soft-spoken Cho's people skills.

Under Mark Cuban, Nelson has had the freedom to burn up the phone lines in search of a deal, something that Allen has loved to do over the years, buying up Draft picks from anyone who would sell them and never being leery of making big deals. But Allen has grown into more of a financial hawk over the years, and impacted the current collective bargaining talks with an odd appearance Oct. 21 in which he came to a key meeting between owners and the union, yet said next to nothing even when spoken to by union head Billy Hunter.

Elie draws interest from Nets

The Nets haven't replaced Sam Mitchell on Avery Johnson's bench yet, waiting for the end of the lockout to make formal offers. But word is they'd very much like to talk to Kings assistant Mario Elie, Johnson's former teammate on the first Spurs' championship team and one of Elie's best friends in basketball. The Nets may also look at former Warriors coach Keith Smart.

Surprise tidbit about coaches' L.A. session

Last week, I mentioned the NBA coaches' get-together that took place in Los Angeles early this month at the Clippers' practice facility. What I didn't know then was that it was a "Gurg camp," as in longtime assistant coach Tim Grgurich, universally respected by players and coaches alike around the league for his unquenchable desire to make players and the game better.

Normally, Gurg has a players' skills camp during the offseason that is one of the most desired tickets of the summer, drawing 60 or so players for a week of intense drilling and teaching from up-and-coming assistant coaches -- there are no media or agents allowed. Veterans beg for invites to the camp (that it is in Vegas surely doesn't hurt). But with the lockout in full bloom, that obviously wasn't possible this year.

So more than 50 coaches came together for three days, getting on the floor themselves to talk about enhancing offenses against zones, and vice versa. Rick Carlisle talked about the importance of "flow" in offense. Off the court, coaches talked about how they could improve their relationships with their general managers. Lunch was catered, as the coaches and staffs went for total basketball immersion.

"It was excellent," Carlisle texted Sunday night.


How long can a man keep reliving the most painful moments of his life?

In Jerry West's case, let's just be glad his book tour is winding down.

"Frankly, for me, it's not been good, just reliving things that have happened in my life. It's put me in a funk," West said Sunday afternoon from New York, where he had another day or so before flying back to Los Angeles, and home. West has been on the road faor the past few weeks promoting his autobiography, "West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life," that details the amazing highs and shattering lows of the Hall of Famer's upbringing and professional career.

For the 73-year-old West, detailing the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his late father while growing up in rural West Virginia, as well as dealing with a depression that still is a daily battle, is probably the last thing he needs. But he chose to be brutally honest instead of settling for hagiography, and so, it all went in -- the abuse, the melancholia, the despair he felt at losing and the lack of joy when he won, even when his Lakers finally vanquished the Celtics in the mid-80s, how he tried to find solace wherever he could find it when his playing days ended, and how he left good jobs with the Lakers and Grizzlies before taking a front office job last summer with the Warriors.

And for someone who doesn't like calling attention to himself, whose depression was so crippling that he couldn't return calls at work while sitting in his office, writing a book would seem to be the last thing you'd want to do. But West believes it's been worth re-opening those old wounds.

"In writing this, this is something so many athletes have seen, so many people have seen in their lives, the ugliness of growing up at home," West said. "What about that kid for the Saints, [tight end Jimmy Graham], whose mother dropped him off at a juvenile detention home? He's probably got a remarkable story to tell himself. People want to glorify athletes, but behind closed doors there's some pretty ugly stories, things that people would never believe and would never share."

West says he's gotten notes from three-star athletes -- "you'd know them all," he said -- that thanked him for writing the book. But West says he still battles with self-esteem, despite the brilliance of his public life as a player and as an executive. He has said that he opted not to seek therapy for his depression, preferring to take medication and try to work through the demons himself.

"Sometimes that does feel good when you hear that, thanking you for writing things that most people wouldn't dare write," he said. "But I haven't been out of the room for two days. Don't even want to go anywhere ... I feel pretty isolated right now. I like going out. I hate not walking around. You know what's so crazy about this? I really like people and care about people and want to help people in my weird ways. But if I have to walk around, like in an airport, I walk with my head down."

Of course, a lot of attention has been paid to West's thoughts on his dealings with Phil Jackson ("I didn't have a relationship with him," West said Sunday. "It wasn't good, it wasn't bad. That wasn't the reason I left.") and his departure from the team he'd been with for more than 30 years. West says that while he wasn't among the higher-paid GMs while working for Jerry Buss, he didn't leave because of money.

His pursuit of Kobe and Shaq put him in the hospital when it was done, and famously, even after they matured enough to become a dominant pair. West wasn't in Staples Center the night they won their first championship together. He was in agony.

"It was way past money, OK,?" he said. "It had nothing to do with money. I couldn't even watch the games. I got no joy out of it, absolutely no joy. If you can't enjoy what you're doing ... I just got sicker and sicker. I had an absolutely incredible relationship with Jerry Buss."

West has a book signing back in California at L.A. Live, across the street from Staples Center, the building he did so much to get built, on Wednesday. With the lockout still going on, West doesn't have to go up to the Bay Area for a while to start his new job. But at least he'll be done re-examining the dichotomy of the demons that have haunted him much of his life -- the very demons that drove him to becoming one of the best who ever played.

"I'm glad I did it," West said of writing his life story. "But once this is over, I'm never talking about this again."


We are, understandably, getting very close to the "Double Pox" stage. From Rick Dhanda:

I'm a die-hard NBA fan (subscriber to League Pass so I can watch as many games as possible) and I've finally come to the point of legitimate anger toward the NBA labor negotiations. It seems that the only people really losing are the fans and those who's jobs surround stadiums. During this labor lockout I've jumped from one side to the other multiple times. I started on the side of the owners and then switched to the side of the players and I've come to the point where I couldn't care less who wins this dispute but just want to watch games ASAP. This brings me to my question: Who do you think is most at fault for the failing of the negotiations? Is it the players for asking more than 50 percent of BRI? Or is it the owners, who don't seem to be giving up much at all on their side? Further, if, as you've said, it comes down to one side doing something they really don't want to do, who do you think should/will make this move and when should it occur?

I have pingponged as well, Rick. I understand businesspeople who are genuinely frightened about their ability to stay above water when they undertake a massive financial investment like owning an NBA team. Think of it: Joe Lacob and Peter Guber have committed to repay $450 million over whatever period of time they worked out with the financial institutions that fronted them enough money to make the deal to buy the Warriors. That's before they see a penny of profit. Who knows how long that will take? But, then, no one told them to spend that much money on something that wasn't central to their future lives. And as a working stiff, I also understand fighting for every penny on the negotiating table. It's very easy to tell someone else to walk away from hundreds of millions of dollars that they had had previously. But I also get the frustrations of fans whose mortgages are underwater and who have been out of work for two years and just want to watch a damn game to forget for a couple of hours. Anyway, to answer your questions, the owners clearly came into these negotiations with an agenda to take as much money out of the players' pockets as possible and put it into their own, which is their perfect right, and they're sticking to it. The players will have to move, and soon. Fifty-two isn't happening if there's going to be a season.

Opposing views are always welcome, but for now, go on, Imad! From Imad Akel:

Even if the league somehow attains competitive balance, who says that will make the NBA more entertaining? On the contrary, I believe it will make the NBA LESS entertaining.

Having a solid NBA middle-class -- like the Bucks of the 1980s -- is good for the league's health.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Last year was one of the best seasons and playoffs ever because a new superpower emerged in the Miami Heat. Fans and haters alike had a reason to watch more Heat games, even if just to cheer against them.

I don't think fans want a league where the strong players are spread out. No. We want a league with superpower teams, AND UNDERDOG teams. If you take away the superpowers, there will be no underdogs. Competitive balance will take the fun out of things. At the end of the year, The Finals are what it's all about. Would you rather watch two pretty good teams with one superstar each and a balanced cast go at it? Or would you rather to see two GREAT teams with 2-3 superstars on each team go at it?

If the 2004 Pistons didn't win against a stacked team in the Lakers, that series would have been so less interesting. Fans whose teams had already been eliminated cheered for the Pistons because they were underdogs. Or they cheered for the Lakers because they were star-studded. Those are the two greatest reasons fans cheer.

Agree with 95 percent of what you wrote, Imad. I do think, though, the league is healthiest when it also has teams like, for example, the Milwaukee Bucks of the 1980s. They had a great run that decade; they won 50 games or more seven times, made the playoffs every season, had some really good players go through there, like Sidney Moncrief, Ricky Pierce, Jack Sikma, etc. They weren't as good as Boston or Detroit, and they never made a Finals, but they played an entertaining brand of ball on cold nights in Wisconsin. They were good, if not great. You're always going to have great teams, and rebuilding or struggling teams. It's the nature of competition in any league. But that "middle class," especially in smaller markets, is vital for the NBA's future health.

Dadgumit, I'm tired of talking labor. Let's talk hoops! From David Ascic:

I am a 20-year-old Australian from Sydney. I've played basketball at a representative level (Regional/State) since I was 15. However, I have just recently decided to stop playing basketball all together (I still love and follow the NBA/Australian NBL passionately). I'm just writing to tell you why..

I considered myself a defensive specialist, winning three defensive player of the year awards at club level. However, the reason why I stopped playing was due to a problem which I see, not only at my age group/level but also in the professional leagues as well. The NBA is a guard-dominated game. Every game I would set countless picks, grab a ton of rebounds and swat heaps of shots playing cover defense for my guards who got "blown by". But when it came to the offensive end, the only points I would score would be from offensive-rebound putbacks. For some reason, post play entirely has essentially died out...

Solid big men like David Robinson (left) and Patrick Ewing are becoming more and more scarce.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

I understand that with hand-checking and the defensive three second rule, as well as the restricted area in the paint have all allowed for guard play to blossom, but practically every championship team has had an excellent big man. Miami, who played isolation with LeBron, Wade and Bosh (In my opinion a 6-foot-11 small forward), couldn't match up against a team with solid bigs in [Tyson] Chandler and Dirk [Nowitzki]. Before that, [Pau] Gasol and [Andrew] Bynum carried L.A., providing steady offense when they "needed" a basket. You "need" baskets to win games, so why not just go to the bigs more often?...

My main point is, why is it that during a guard-dominated game, solid big men always prevail? I stopped playing because I couldn't handle the ego and arguments with guards who refused to play a team game. I've seen Dwight [Howard] constantly frustrated with his teammates during games (only in last seasons Atlanta series did we see a steady diet of Dwight in the post). I'm sure that in the States, 6-foot-10 17-year-olds who can dunk at will at an early age never develop the fundamental skills (passing, dribbling,shooting) which is why there seems to be a lack of up-and-coming big men. It's just sad to see post play die out almost entirely, when it is still a winning formula.

There are lots of reasons that so many big men don't seem to have good offensive fundamentals these day, David. (The letters "AAU" leap to mind.) But the NBA is responsible, too. It believes fans want more offense, and the easiest way to produce more offense is to let ball-handlers, whether guards or forward, have near impunity to get to the basket and score. Almost all of the rules changes of the last 15 years have been designed to make it harder to defend anyone who can take more than two dribbles consecutively.

Send your comments, questions, criticisms and suggestions for Lockout Halloween costumes ("I am the 52.5 percent"?) to If your e-mail is sufficiently interesting, funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!


$400 million -- Total revenue lost by each side by losing the first month of the season. The NBA and the players were about $100 million per year apart on the proposed split of Basketball Related Income when talks broke down Friday

$25,000 -- Minimum bid for the 1983 championship ring of Hall of Famer Julius Erving, part of the collection of personal memorabilia the Doctor is putting up for auction to registered bidders through Nov. 19. The Doctor says the auction is not tied to a $200,000 lawsuit filed against him by a Georgia bank.

122 -- Days since the lockout began.


1) Oh, Micky, you'll be fined, fined so high they'll blow your mind, hey Micky, hey Micky...

2) Don't usually hype shoe commercials, but the "Basketball Never Sleeps" ad with, oh, seemingly everybody in it is pretty good.

3) It's always a good day when the Ham Slamwich is back in the league!

4) That was a great World Series. All praise to the Cardinals, who simply would not go away. That's the best kind of team, isn't it, the one that just won't fold, even when it's given a hundred times to do so in the course of a postseason. Feel bad for the Rangers, but they had it on their racket a half-dozen times and couldn't close.

5) Especially looking forward to the 1500M Imperial Walker Walk.

6) Oh, and Happy Halloween.


1) To be honest, there are some stories that get to you, that compel you to make that extra phone call, to go back and lean on that one last source one last time, because you know the truth is still not in your story, and you want it, for yourself and for your readers and viewers, and you don't know what that truth is yet, so it's worth pushing the envelope. And there are other stories whose outcomes are so preordained, and predictable, that you don't spend a second thinking about them or working on them. Frankly, this was one of those stories.

2) Twenty (!) years ago, I had the good fortune to work with John Nash, who was the Bullets' new GM when I was getting my feet wet as a beat guy. Over the years, he's run teams in Philly, New Jersey and Portland as well, and he's smart and hard-working, and somebody who's equally smart would give him a position of importance in their organization right now, since the 76ers' new ownership group has gone in another direction and won't retain him as a scout.

3) Without arguing the politics of the 99 percent movement, I'd like to think that an Iraq War veteran who served his country honorably and who believes in the cause could express his views freely without getting his skull broken by police officers.


Did yal know me and the guy who hit me with the beer in Detroit are friends now? We speak all the time
-- Metta World Peace (@MettaWorldPeace), Friday, 11:52 p.m., saying he and John Green, the Pistons' fan in the middle of the Brawl at Auburn Hills, have done a couple of commercials together.


"They need to remind themselves that the reason they are so successful is because a whole bunch of folks out there love basketball."
-- President Barack Obama, on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno", on his frustrations with both sides in the lockout.

"I'm not going to be cussing any referees out. That's not going to happen. You'll never see that. Professional and demanding. I won't be cussing my players out."
-- Warriors coach Mark Jackson, in this Q and A with I found it interesting, because while you'd think players would welcome not having F-bombs and the like dropped on them, there have actually been cases where they took such decisions by their coach, perversely, as a sign of weakness. When Paul Westphal -- like Jackson, a devout Christian -- was in Seattle, he had problems with some of his players because he didn't curse. Strange, but true.

"It's not where I want it to be. When it does end, it's going to end on a much better note than this right here. This is not the way it's going to end. Even if I do have to go overseas to play in a competitive situation, it's not going to end like this."
-- Allen Iverson, to Yahoo! Sports, detailing his hopes to finish his career with an NBA team on the right note after his last few disastrous seasons in Memphis, Detroit and, last season, with a team in Turkey.

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

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.


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