That’s happened a few times during the lockout, but this one felt different.
There was a nasty tone, including accusations of lying, and an acknowledgement from Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver that he misjudged just how far apart the sides were.
More games seem sure to be canceled, and the entire season could be in jeopardy.
“I hate to use the expression ‘gloves are off.’ But for all intents and purposes, the gloves are off,” players’ association vice president Maurice Evans said. “With the press conference that they had — don’t want to get into he said, she said, but that just wasn’t very accurate. It’s evident of the time we spent in the room that we were here, we were bargaining, we were making progress. For it all to suddenly end — that should speak volumes in itself.”
The sides remained divided over two main issues — the division of revenues and the structure of the salary cap system. The dollars were the obstacle Thursday, after the system caused most recent breakdown.
“We understand the ramifications of where we are,” Silver said. “We’re saddened on behalf of the game.”
Both sides had said there was progress on minor issues in the first two days in the presence of federal mediator George Cohen, and Silver said he brought more optimism than usual into Thursday’s session.
“But obviously I was disappointed and sort of maybe overestimated where it turns out we were,” Silver said.
Without a deal, NBA Commissioner David Stern, who missed Thursday’s session with the flu, almost certainly will decide more games must be dropped.
The season was supposed to begin Nov. 1, but all games through Nov. 14 — 100 in total — already have been scrapped, costing players about $170 million in salaries.
Stern said previously that he thought games through Christmas were in jeopardy without a deal this week. Silver said the labor committee would speak with Stern on Friday about the future schedule, though no further cancellations are expected yet.
Union officials were upset with Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt’s account of the events and felt owners were never serious about trying to make a deal, with union executive director Billy Hunter saying the lockout was “preordained.”
“They knew when they presented what they were presenting to us that it wasn’t going to fly,” Hunter said.
The union said owners essentially gave it an ultimatum to accept a 50-50 split of revenues. Attorney Jeffrey Kessler said the meeting was “hijacked.”
“We were shocked,” he said. “We went in there trying to negotiate and they came in and they said you either accept 50-50 or we’re done and we won’t discuss anything else.”
Both sides praised Cohen and had honored his request not to speak about the process after the first two days. But it was clear by the time talks broke down that there were bad feelings.
“We’ve spent the last few days making our best effort to try and find a resolution here. Not one that was necessarily a win-win. It wouldn’t be a win for us. It wouldn’t be a win for them. But one that we felt like would get our game back … and get our guys back on the court, get our vendors back to work, get the arenas open, get these communities revitalized,” union president Derek Fisher said.
“And in our opinion, that’s not what the NBA and the league is interested in at this point. They’re interested in telling you one side of the stories that are not true and this is very serious to us. This is not in any way about ego. There are a lot of people’s livelihoods at stake separate from us.”
Hunter said the union made “concession after concession after concession … and it’s just not enough.”
“We’re not prepared to let them impose a system on us that eliminates guarantees, reduces contract lengths, diminishes all our increases,” he said. “We’re saying no way. We fought too long and made too many sacrifices to get where we are.”
Previously each side had proposed receiving 53 percent of basketball-related income after players were guaranteed 57 percent under the previous collective bargaining agreement.
Silver said the league formally proposed a 50-50 revenue split Wednesday. The union said its proposal would have been a band that would have allowed it to collect as much as 53 percent but no less than 50, based on the league’s revenues.
“Hopefully, we can get back to the table, but certainly a tough day, a very tough day,” said Holt, the labor relations committee chair.
Asked whether the players would drop to 50 percent, Holt said he didn’t think it was that big of a jump but that the union did.
He said the league would not go above 50 percent “as of today. But never say never on anything.”
Hunter said Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert told players to trust that if they took the 50-50 split, the salary cap issues could be worked out.
“I can’t trust your gut. I got to trust my own gut,” he said. “There’s no way in the world I’m going to trust your gut on whether or not you’re going to be open and amenable to making the changes in the system that we think are necessary and appropriate.”
Owners and players met with Cohen for 16 hours Tuesday, ending around 2 a.m. Wednesday, then returned just eight hours later and spent another 8½ hours in discussions. The sides then met for about five hours Thursday, before calling it quits.
“Am I worried about the season, per se? Yeah. But I’m more so worried about us standing up for what we believe in,” New Orleans Hornets guard Jarrett Jack said. “I think that’s the bigger issue at hand.”
Cohen didn’t recommend that the two sides continue the mediation process as they weren’t able to resolve the “strongly held, competing positions that separated them on core issues.”
Though the sides have said they believe bargaining is the only route to a deal, the process could end up in the courts. Each brought an unfair labor practice charge against the other with the National Labor Relations Board, and the league also filed a federal lawsuit against the union attempting to block it from decertifying.
Union officials, so far, have been opposed to decertification, a route the NFL players initially chose during their lockout.
However, Hunter said Thursday that “all of our options are on the table. Everything.”