The NBA commissioner used a good joke Saturday to address a sizable blemish coloring this weekend’s All-Star events.
Amid one of the league’s finest seasons in years waits this gremlin: Even while the players and owners are building a viable future, they’re facing off in a showdown over a new collective bargaining agreement and revenue-sharing plan that could disrupt everything.
“Yes,” Stern said, when asked whether both the CBA and the revenue-sharing plan were being negotiated separately. “This part of my head is white from the collective bargaining.”
He stopped and indicated very white hair indeed. Everyone laughed. “And this part,” he went on, motioning to the other side, “from the revenue-sharing discussions. And they are equally intense, I assure you.”
Yes, they are.
As the game’s finest players prepare to put on what Stern called the “ultimate celebration of our game,” both sides met behind closed doors this weekend to discuss the future — and the large hurdle blocking the way.
Stern, with his silver tongue and optimistic tone, put a fine spin on what’s next. But the message remains the same: that the owners and players remain far apart, and a lockout — despite how destructive it could be to all that’s being celebrated this weekend — remains a distinct possibility.
“We and the players each made proposals to the other,” Stern said. “We have each expressed to the other our dissatisfaction with each other’s proposals.”
On Friday, the players union also struck a somewhat conciliatory tone.
"The meeting was somewhat amicable," players union executive director Billy Hunter said. "We went in with the idea of trying to keep the rhetoric and the volatility down. We talked about our willingness to negotiate and get a deal and that we very much wanted to avoid a lockout."
For the second time in two weeks, a major American sport has showcased itself underneath the growing shadow of a lockout and all that it would entail.
The NFL — which was also tethered by lockout talk at its showcase event, the Super Bowl — seems to rightly believe it is large enough and popular enough to withstand such a move.
The NBA is not so fortunate.
While owners and players reportedly dig in their heels and prepare for a protracted battle, they risk forfeiting all the good will and excitement generated by the storylines that have arisen this year: The Big Three in Miami. The Boston Big Four. The renaissance of the point guard. The greatness of Blake Griffin and the rejuvenation of the monster dunk. The growing relevance of big-market teams. The list goes on.
Swirling around the NBA’s future is both the CBA and the revenue-sharing plan, the latter complicated by the Lakers’ recent deal with Time Warner Cable. The 20-year contract is reportedly for $3 billion, enough to raise eyebrows and undercut suggestions that the owners’ big demands are backed by financial necessity.
Or so one side sees it. Not so much Stern.
“No, you increase revenue sharing, doesn’t solve a problem if there are losses,” he said. “Because you can’t revenue-share your way to a profit as a league.
“And what it does do … (is) teams that do quite well, as the Lakers do, will look forward to being part of the payers in a robust revenue-sharing plan, which is going to occur at the same time as we make a new collective bargaining agreement.”
Stern also stressed that both sides generally agree on the numbers that speak to the health of the league’s teams, while the union said in a statement Saturday that was far from the case.
There was also the not-so-small problem that the owners are looking for a hard salary cap.
"Probably one of the biggest impediments for getting a deal has been their demands for a hard salary cap, and we’ve indicated that we just don’t see any way possible for us to accept that," Hunter said. "Obviously, we’re willing to discuss and see where it can go."
Among the other topics Stern addressed:
On whether he expects the Hornets, who are now owned by the league, to remain in New Orleans:
On concerns the clustering of top talent in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago will leave smaller markets unable to compete:
“It would be a good thing if more teams could compete. We are very focused through revenue sharing and this deal, this agreement that we are trying to get, on having small markets with the capacity to compete in this league.
On the new book about disgraced former official Tim Donaghy and his betting scandal:
“I have not read the new book or seen it yet, although I’m happy each All-Star weekend or Finals to present an opportunity for a convicted felon to issue yet another tome on his misdeed.”
On negotiations between the Sacramento Kings and representatives from Anaheim to relocate the team:
“Sitting here, I don’t know whether or not they are ongoing. No one has told me that they have been tabled, and no one has told me that they are ongoing.”
On prospective Pistons owner Tom Gores:
“Every indication is there will be a deal, and we’ll see how that goes.”
On the chances that Kansas City, with its state-of-the-art arena looking for a full-time tenant, could land an NBA team:
“We have had some dialogue with AEG about Kansas City, but at the present time there doesn’t seem to be an ownership group for that city.”