NEW YORK — In the high stakes business of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement between the NBA’s owners and players, there are “deadlines” and there are deadlines.
And then there is the deadline.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver told reporters at a news conference Wednesday that if the two sides haven’t reached a deal by Friday night, the league will opt-out of the current one. That would terminate the CBA on June 30 this year, rather than the end of the upcoming 2023-24 season.
At that point, the league and the National Basketball Players Association would have three months to hammer out a new contract, rather than 15 under the full term of the existing CBA, ratified in July 2017.
“I certainly can foresee one getting done [by midnight Friday],” Silver said, “and I hope we do get one done. Because obviously I’m only one side of the negotiation, it’s difficult for me to place odds on whether or not that’s going to happen.”
A December 15 cutoff to opt out was first extended to February 8 and then March 31. Silver felt those straw deadlines were helpful in sparking the bargaining talks with NBPA executive director Tamika Tremaglio and their negotiating teams, discussions that have been ongoing through this season.
“The whole idea behind these early deadlines was to try to avoid going right up to the line,” Silver said.
Opting out would advance that line a full year. As much as the two sides have appreciated the low profile and relatively leisurely pace of negotiations to this point, there apparently are issues worth addressing in a re-opened CBA, rather than letting this one unspool another year.
“We’ve made clear to the Players Association, made clear publicly, that we would like to see changes,” the commissioner said. “I think that has much less to do with rancor between the sides than changed circumstances since we negotiated [the current deal]. For example, in media. We’re looking at a different world now than we were last time.”
The league’s current broadcast rights deal was for nine years and $24 billion with ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports. It has two seasons remaining, running through the 2024-25 season.
The landscape for TV has changed dramatically with broadcast, cable and streaming developments. Also, the NFL, NHL and MLS have landed lucrative rights packages that has the NBA thinking its own could double or triple in value.
Said Silver: “Without being more specific, how we distribute our television, what dollars we’re generating locally and nationally all go into the mix. As we’re now looking out into a new paradigm of media, there are changes that we would like to see made.”
One notable element of the NBA’s relationship with the NBPA is its revenue split of approximately 50-50 for all basketball-related income. That “50-50 partnership” entered the CBA vernacular in the 2011 negotiations and lockout and persists. It is credited for making the 2017 talks go so smoothly, and for helping the league and its players navigate the treacherous waters of the COVID lockdown and Orlando “bubble” in 2020.
“One of the things that we used to see back in the old days of collective bargaining were months of back-and-forth over, as you referred to it, trust,” Silver said. “Like, are these really the numbers? What’s the business really look like?”
More than merely a money split, that 50-50 talk implies an equilibrium, a sense of fairness that was missing from some earlier negotiations.
“It goes both to the transparency,” Silver said, “but also to this sense of partnership where we all are able to step back and say, ‘All right, when we get done with this negotiation, the goal is to be further incentivized to make the investments to continue to grow the pie to have more dollars to share 50-50.'”
Check back on Friday, though: A re-commitment to land a fresh CBA could result in years of labor and financial peace for the league and its players. Or if Friday lapses into Saturday, the NBA and the union could be in for months of more urgent bargaining talks.
Then the real deadline would be waiting.
The Board of Governors discussed a number of topics and so did Silver, including:
• Silver offered insight into his meeting with Memphis star Ja Morant after the Grizzlies’ point guard posted to social media showing himself in a nightclub in possession of a handgun. Morant received an eight-game suspension from the league and was summoned to New York.
“I think he understood,” Silver said, “that while I appreciated his full cooperation, his expression of complete remorse and his acknowledgment of not just how dangerous any activity involving a gun can be but … the millions if not tens of millions of kids who could possibly be influenced by his conduct, what I think we both understood is that what’s going to be most important is what happens going forward and how successful he’ll be in modifying his behavior.
“My sense was he felt the full gravity of that.”
• Asked about the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023 to be announced Saturday at the Final Four, Silver declined to name any favorites or even to “jinx” anyone. Five NBA legends are up for first-ballot induction: Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and coach Gregg Popovich.
“The more recent [classes] seem to stand out because I just know them all personally,” Silver said. “It wasn’t the case when I was a younger person in the league. … So many close friends that I’ve traveled around the world with.”
• Silver quashed a rumor that he might be in line to become the next CEO of Disney. “I love my job at the NBA,” he said. “I have no intention of going anywhere.”
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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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