Players union chief says NBA lockout may help dialogue
Billy Hunter, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Assn., said that while the NBA's third labor stoppage in its history (beginning at 9:01 p.m. PDT) is a grim event, it might propel a more realistic offer of what league owners want.
"They're going to lock us out, and I said, 'Maybe we can now really begin to negotiate,' " Hunter told reporters in New York after a three-hour session failed to resolve a dispute that appears headed for an extended and possibly season-stopping session.
"We've been waiting for the lockout, now there's a lockout. Let's get down to business."
That business is not expected to be kind to Hunter's union, however, with NBA owners complaining that more than half of their teams are losing money, players having already agreed to reduced salaries moving forward, and the league struggling to solve its weak revenue sharing program.
NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "We didn't see any options" but a lockout at a Thursday news conference. Stern's owners want a new collective bargaining agreement to last 10 years, while players want to restrict it to five years.
"We can't seem to bridge the economic gap," Hunter told reporters, adding that he plans to meet with the NBA again within two weeks.
The league generated a reported $4.3 billion in revenue last season, but says it's suffering $300 million in annual losses and wants to clamp payroll.
In July 1998, the sides endured six months of bargaining before striking a deal in January 1999. The league schedule was reduced from 82 to 50 games that year.
"I hope it doesn't come down to that," Hunter told reporters. "Obviously, the clock is now running with regard to whether or not there will or will be a loss of games, and so I'm hoping that over the next month or so that there will be sort of a softening on their side and maybe we have to soften our position as well."
-- Lance Pugmire
Photo: Billy Hunter. Credit: Lucas Jackson / Reuters.