NEW YORK — NBA players made it clear Tuesday: No deal.
No fear of commissioner David Stern’s ultimatum, either.
“The current offer on the table from the NBA is one that we cannot accept,” players’ association president Derek Fisher said.
Instead, the players said they will ask for another meeting with owners before Stern’s Wednesday afternoon deadline — and sound willing to agree to a 50-50 split of revenues under the right circumstances — in an attempt to end the lockout and save the season.
Stern said that whether he agrees to meet “would be guided by the labour relations committee.”
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the league has not yet heard from Hunter.
A month of the season has already been lost, and the NBA risks losing fans without an agreement soon. Some already appear to have forgotten: Blake Griffin, last season’s rookie of the year, stood around in the lobby of a busy hotel off Broadway and was rarely approached by fans.
The league’s current proposal calls for players to receive between 49 per cent and 51 per cent of basketball-related income, though union officials argue it would be nearly impossible to get above 50.2 per cent.
“The players are clearly of the mind that it’s an unacceptable proposal,” union executive director Billy Hunter said. “But because of their commitment to the game and their desire to play, they’re saying to us that we want you to go back, see if you can go back, get a better deal.”
If players don’t take the deal by 5 p.m. Wednesday, the next offer will call for salary rollbacks, a 53-47 revenue split in the owners’ favour and essentially a hard salary cap.
“Our proposal on the table now goes away (Wednesday),” Stern said. “Our next proposal will then go to the players, and we will see where negotiations go.”
Players are willing to negotiate further on the revenue split if they get some concessions on the salary cap system. Without them, Fisher said “we don’t see a way of getting a deal done between now and end of business” Wednesday.
The league is seeking to limit the spending options of teams above the luxury tax threshold, believing that would lead to greater competitive balance. Players want all teams to be options for free agents.
When asked if there’s still wiggle room on system issues, Stern said that as of 3 a.m. Sunday there was none left.
The players insisted they will not be forced into taking a bad deal by an ultimatum — though Stern refused to call it that.
“The players are saying that we understand their position, but unfortunately we’re not intimidated by all that,” Hunter said.
With more than 40 players ranging from all-stars to minimum salary players behind them, Fisher and Hunter dismissed Stern’s warning, had hard words for Michael Jordan and repeated that they are willing to negotiate and believe they have made more than enough economic concessions to get the salary cap system they want.
That message was not just for the owners.
They also were speaking to the players and agents who advocate disbanding the union in an attempt to take on the league in court. Union leaders said there was very little discussion about decertification, saying they understand there would be differences of opinion with a membership of 450, but that the team representatives summoned to New York knew the best interests of their teammates.
The union called the meeting after Stern issued his ultimatum early Sunday morning following an eight-hour bargaining session with a federal mediator. Fisher said 43 players, including superstars Carmelo Anthony and Griffin, attended the meeting and that 29 of the 30 teams were represented.
Jordan provided perhaps the most memorable moment of the last lockout, chastising former Washington owner Abe Pollin that he should sell his team if he couldn’t make a profit without concessions from players. Jordan now owns the Charlotte Bobcats and is considered one of the hardliners who never wanted Stern to offer the players a 50-50 split.
“I would give him the advice that he gave to Abe Pollin,” Hunter said.
After the press conference, Fisher bumped into an old acquaintance from Arkansas, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who was at the hotel preparing to appear on an evening talk show. Clinton signed a copy of his new book, “Back to Work,” for Fisher as players looked on.
Next, Fisher would like to meet with Stern, believing there is room to compromise.
After previously saying they wouldn’t go below 52.5 per cent of BRI, players said Saturday they would be willing to go down to about 51 per cent, with one per cent going to a fund for retired player benefits.
They might go even further, but only with some movement on the system issues.
“We’re open to discussions, open to negotiation,” Fisher said. “We’re open minded about potential compromises on our number, but there are things in the system that are not up for discussion that we have to have in order to able to get this season going.”