NBA lockout puts new season in jeopardy

A lockout of NBA players by club owners began one minute after midnight Friday morning, setting up a league shutdown that threatens the 2011-2012 NBA season.

Updated: July 01, 2011 12:06 IST
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New York: A lockout of NBA players by club owners began one minute after midnight Friday morning, setting up a league shutdown that threatens the 2011-2012 NBA season.

After a three-hour negotiating session failed Thursday, NBA owners ordered the first work stoppage since the 1998-1999 season was slashed to 50 games, leaving fans to wonder if next season will start as planned around November 1.

"I'm resigned to the potential damage it could do to our league," said NBA commissioner David Stern.

The pressure of lost income will not push talks for several months since the most recent NBA campaign ended just over two weeks ago, but that means talks might not become serious until early October when training camps usually start.

The lockout means teams cannot conduct trades, make free agent signings or carry out contract talks. Players, who will not be paid, are barred from using team facilities or working with team coaches.

Players must also take care of their own health insurance, an issue for some who might not want to risk playing in Olympic qualifying tournaments over the next few months due to the injury consequences no longer being covered by NBA clubs.

The NBA follows the National Football League into a work stoppage. The NFL reached the 108th day of its lockout on Friday with talks ongoing over a new deal but nothing set with pre-season training camps set to open in three weeks.

Stern and NBA players union executive director Billy Hunter failed to break the impasse in negotiations on Thursday, with owners saying only eight of 30 clubs make money as they seek a hard salary cap and payroll reductions from players.

"I've been anticipating this lockout for the last two or three years," Hunter said. "It's here. Maybe now we can really begin to negotiate all those issues.

"Players want to continue playing basketball and are very disappointed."

Hunter hoped talks might resume in two weeks.

"Obviously, the clock is now running with regard to whether or not there will or will be a loss of games," Hunter said.

"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."

Stern says teams are losing a total of $300 million a season with a huge divide between owners and players in terms of financial proposals.

"The expiring collective bargaining agreement created a broken system that produced huge financial losses for our teams," deputy commissioner Adam Silver said.

"We need a sustainable business model that allows all 30 teams to be able to compete for a championship, fairly compensates our players, and provides teams, if well-managed, with an opportunity to be profitable."

Players made a final pitch at the meeting but Stern said it would have raised the average player salary from $5 million, the level the NBA was willing to accept, to $7 million in its sixth year, a level Stern could not stomach.

"We don't have any choice," Stern said. "We've tried unsuccessfully to persuade the union. There has to be a return on the investment we are making.

"It worries me that we're not closer. We have a huge philosophical divide."

Exactly when such stars as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki might return to the court is now unclear just over two weeks after German star Nowitzki led Dallas to victory over James and the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

"We're going to still keep negotiating and we're going to work hard on keeping this momentum going that NBA basketball is facing right now," said Los Angeles Lakers standout Derek Fisher, the NBA players' union president.

But no one is certain exactly what course will be taken from here.

"These things take on a life of their own and I don't know where that life will lead," Stern said. "We have to go back and look at everything."

The NFL decertified its union and pressed an anti-trust case against the league in court, a move the NBA union is unlikely to copy for now, Hunter said.

Arena workers and others who make their living from NBA games face a loss of work if the deadlock continues.

"The people who stand to have their livings impacted by a shutdown of our industry are going to have a negative view of both sides," Stern said. "Our fans will tend to have a negative view."

Some NBA players could look to European leagues for paychecks, but stars are not expected to look overseas.

"I just hope things go smooth, we're not locked out for as long as people think and we get back to what we're supposed to do," said NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant.

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