THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Stern is still hopeful

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / August 12, 2011

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SPRINGFIELD - That barely noticeable cloud over the Basketball Hall of Fame ceremonies this weekend is the NBA labor situation, which appears to be at an impasse less than two months before training camps are supposed to begin.

At the Hall of Fame reunion dinner last night, where several of the game’s greatest congregate to celebrate the new class, commissioner David Stern appeared hopeful about a labor agreement despite the fact that the league and the Players Association have had only one negotiating session in five weeks.

The owners are trying to address the league’s financial struggles, as they claim 22 teams are losing money. They have offered a “flex cap,’’ which could reduce overall team spending dramatically by setting a median spending limit of $62 million per team. The players said they will not accept any form of a hard salary cap.

“I would say that we have very smart players,’’ said Stern, “who recognize that this system is very good to them. You got 13 players on a roster averaging $5 million apiece, that’s $65 million, and what the owners have said is, ‘We’re going to try very hard as we reset this thing to keep you as close to that number as we can.’

“The NFL, which is usually profitable as opposed to the NBA, which isn’t, got the double-digit [revenue] reductions from their players. Our players will understand that when the rhetoric stops, the owners are trying to do the right thing, and our players always try to do the right thing.’’

Stern walked away discouraged from the negotiating session two weeks ago, and less than 24 hours later, the NBA filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board to prevent a decertification of the union.

Still, Stern said, he is optimistic about an agreement.

“I expect that we’ll make a deal because the alternative is very destructive,’’ he said. “It’s destructive of $2 billion worth of player salaries and it’s destructive most important to our fans of the game. And if it spirals badly, everyone gets hurt.

“But in some ways I worry, because the players have more to lose, especially those in the later stages of their career. So we’re going to do everything we can when the rhetoric slows down to get this thing back on track.’’

That statement may have been a shot at Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, who told the National Bar Association last week that he expects the 2011-12 season will be lost because of the labor dispute. Stern told the Globe that a scheduled negotiating session yesterday was canceled by the players.

“They’ll be smaller meetings, conversations,’’ he said. “You don’t need these great media events to have dialogue. Eventually we’ll get it done.

“I will not set a deadline on Aug. 11.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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