Three days of negotiation and mediation by federal arbiter George Cohen did nothing to bridge the large gap between the NBA owners and players, as talks broke off Thursday night, meaning the distinct possibility of more canceled games and perhaps the entire season.
Both sides walked away jaded, accusing the other of making unreasonable demands and Players Association president Derek Fisher went so far as to tell reporters, "You guys were just lied to," after deputy commissioner Adam Silver and labor relations committee chair Peter Holt of the San Antonio Spurs told the media that the players wanted concessions in other areas if they agreed to a 50-50 split on the basketball-related income.
Players Association executive director Billy Hunter had a different memory of today's negotiation, saying in a press conference that Holt told the NBPA that a 50-50 split was a "take it or leave it" deal.
"We felt we made several significant compromises, proposed compromises to get a deal done," Silver said from New York. "We understand the ramifications of where we are. We're saddened on behalf of the game. But we have certain core beliefs that which we think are absolutely necessary to achieve before we continue to play NBA basketball. We were unable to bridge the gap that separates the two parties and at the time we have no further discussions with the union."
As of now, there are no scheduled talks and commissioner David Stern, who missed today's meeting because of the flu, could cancel more games as early as next week.
But right now I would agree it could be tougher than it has been in the past to get back together."
"Hopefully both sides won't harden and we can try to get back together," Holt said. "
Cohen, obviously befuddled after three days and nearly 30 hours of talks produced nothing, released a statement through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service after the talks were concluded.
“As a follow up to the NBA’s and NBA Players Association agreeing to my invitation to conduct negotiations under the auspices of the FMCS, three days of mediation
have taken place. During this period, a wide variety of issues were addressed in a professional, thoughtful manner, consistent with what one would expect to take place in a constructive collective bargaining setting.
"Regrettably, however, the parties have not achieved an overall agreement, nor have they been able to resolve the strongly held, competing positions that separated them on core issues. In these circumstances, after carefully reviewing all of the events that have transpired, it is the considered judgment of myself and Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh, who has been engaged with me throughout this process, that no useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time. For our part, the Agency has advised the parties that we will be willing and prepared to continue to facilitate any future discussions upon their mutual request."
Neither side said they have considered inviting Cohen back to further negotiations, when or if they occur. For now, the NBA season is at risk of being canceled because the two sides cannot agree on how much of the league's income each side should receive.
The players received 57 percent in the previous collective bargaining agreement while the owners proposed that percentage decrease to 47 percent. Silver said the league officially proposed a 50-50 split but the players countered with 52.5 percent and refused to dip any lower.
Hunter said the players proposed a 53-50 sliding scale that would guaranteed the players at least a 50 percent share regardless of the league's economic state and 53 percent if revenue streams flourish. The owners refused, according to Hunter and Holt then responded with the "take it or leave it" offer.
"I want to make it clear that you guys were lied to earlier," Fisher said. "It's that simple. 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. But one that we felt could get our guys back on the court. In our opinion, that's not what our league is interested in."
Hunter said the sides made progress on smaller issues and decided Thursday to take to tackle basketball-related income, which led to the abrupt conclusion of the discussions. Holt said the owners in smaller markets are looking for a more profitable situation and he claimed 22 teams lost a total of $450 million last season. After winning four NBA titles in a eight-year span, Holt said his Spurs also lost money this past season.
Several NBA players used Twitter to complain that the NBPA was alone in making concessions while the owners are looking for a bigger share of revenues to increase profits.