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Original Issue

Money Ball

A numbers dispute between labor and the league bodes ill for the NBA in 2011

Chances that there will be NBA games next season seem to be diminishing by the day. Last January the league submitted its proposal to the players' union for a new collective bargaining agreement, to take effect when the current one expires July 1. The proposal called for a 38% reduction in player salaries (between $750 million and $800 million), a rollback of existing salaries, a hard salary cap, shorter contracts, elimination of all cap exceptions and a reduction in contract guarantees.

This month the union distributed a podcast to players detailing its counterproposal, which, according to a person briefed on it, seeks a deal more in line with the current system, with minor tweaks such as flexibility in signing and trading and a second mid-level ($5.8 million) exception. Says a team executive, "It feels like we're a million miles apart."

Why such a gulf? The answer lies in the interpretation of the NBA's financial state. Commissioner David Stern has said the league will lose around $350 million this season. The union projects league revenues will grow by more than $100 million. The league has opened its books to the union, but it's clear that after a look at those books the union interprets the numbers differently.

Those looking for reasons to be optimistic that the NBA can avoid a work stoppage are finding few. The union last month told players that it's "unlikely that any real progress will be made in the coming months" and has stocked a $175 million war chest to support players. The one major concession the union has made—offering to reduce the players' guarantee of 57% of revenue—has fallen on deaf ears. The league believes owners would lose less money in a lockout than they would playing another season under the current system. No meetings have been scheduled, and it appears, for now, both sides are playing out the clock.


Two weeks after being assaulted and robbed of $315,000 in jewelry, F/1 racing boss Bernie Ecclestone appeared in a Hublot wristwatch ad that featured Ecclestone's black eye along with the tagline "See what people will do for a Hublot."



CAN WE TALK? Stern (right, with Kobe Bryant in October) says the league is losing money; the players' union disagrees.