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NBA locks out players after no new deal

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NEW YORK (AP) — The NBA locked out its players Friday, a long-expected move that put the 2011-12 season in jeopardy and came as the NFL is trying to end its own work stoppage that began in March.

The latest lockout began at 12:01 EDT (0401 GMT) Friday. It will last until player and owners can agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, one owners demand must give all teams a chance to profit.

"We had a great year in terms of the appreciation of our fans for our game. It just wasn't a profitable one for the owners, and it wasn't one that many of the smaller market teams particularly enjoyed or felt included in," NBA Commissioner David Stern said. "The goal here has been to make the league profitable and to have a league where all 30 teams can compete."

Despite a three-hour meeting Thursday and a final proposal from the players — which NBA leaders said would have raised average player salaries to $7 million in the sixth year of the deal — the sides could not close the enormous gulf between their positions.

"The problem is that there's such a gap in terms of the numbers, where they are and where we are, and we just can't find any way to bridge that gap," union chief Billy Hunter said.

All league business is officially on hold, starting with the free agency period that would have opened Friday. The NBA's summer league in Las Vegas already has been canceled, preseason games in Europe were never scheduled, and players might have to decide if they want to risk playing in this summer's Olympic qualifying tournaments without the NBA's help in securing insurance in case of injury.

And teams will be prohibited from having any contact with their players, most of whom won't be paid until a deal is done but insist they'll hang in anyway.

The last lockout reduced the 1998-99 season to just a 50-game schedule, the only time the NBA missed games for a work stoppage. Hunter said it's too early to be concerned about that.

"I hope it doesn't come down to that," he said. "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."

The NBA appeared headed this route from the start of negotiations. Owners said they lost hundreds of millions in every season of this CBA, ratified in 2005. League officials said 22 of the 30 teams would lose money.

So they took a hard-line stance from the start, with their initial proposal in 2010 calling for a hard salary cap system, reducing contract lengths and eliminating contract guarantees, as well as reducing player salary costs by about $750 million annually. Though the proposal was withdrawn after a contentious meeting with players at the 2010 All-Star weekend, the league never moved from its wish list until recently, and Hunter said he believes negotiations never recovered from that rocky beginning.

The union had previously filed an unfair labor charge against the league with the National Labor Relations Board for unfair bargaining practices, complaining the NBA's goal was to avoid meaningful negotiation until a lockout was in place.

Despite frequent meetings this month, the sides just didn't make much progress.

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