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Hopes Dim For NBA Season: Players Reject Offer


The pro basketball season had been getting canceled a couple of weeks at a time, but now the entire season could be lost. Players rejected last night what the owners said was their best offer. And the players made a dramatic move as well. They actually disbanded as a union. We're going to talk about this with NPR's Mike Pesca. He joins us from the studios of our member station WBUR in Boston.

Mike, good morning.


INSKEEP: Hope WBUR is taking good care of you up there.

PESCA: They are.

INSKEEP: What is the point of disbanding the union?

PESCA: Well, it's a tactic. And the owners would say it's just a tactic or a sham tactic. But the players would say there's enough legitimacy behind it and it gives us some options.

Now, because there is a union it means that there could be no antitrust litigation. But, of course, every sports league operates as a trust. That's why player contracts are limited and that's why every player doesn't just have free rein to negotiate whatever contract he wants.

So what this does in essence, if it's allowed to stand, is it opens up the courts. Not the basketball courts, the courts of law for the players to sue the owners. You have to go down the road to see what will happen, but it's the players saying, we tried to negotiate. Now we're going to try to sue.

INSKEEP: OK. So if you're a union, if the players are a union, you have to do things through the normal collective bargaining process, in effect. But this gives the players access to other legal channels they would not otherwise have. Now, this...

PESCA: Yeah. It opens up a new front, in other words.

INSKEEP: Now, this came in response to some brinksmanship by the owners. Did not the owners say accept our last best offer or we'll make a worse one?

PESCA: Right. And I don't know if this was the exact situation as referenced in "The Godfather," where every subsequent offer would get 3 percent less or, you know, either your brains or your signature will be on the contract.

But David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, really did try to strong arm the players. And he said this is our last best offer. And the players came back and said we need a little more. And they just didn't get - they got very little more or they got some nibbling at the edges.

And it was kind of surprising, I think, to a lot of outside observers that they players would say, fine, then we will disband the union and there very well might be no season. Because even though the negotiation was tough and there wasn't that much movement in negotiation, when you get right down to it, the salaries, I mean, the bottom line is the bottom line. And players' salaries are very high.

They were taking a pay cut. No one disputes that. Before the negotiation even started, the players said, yes, we will go from taking 57 percent of all the money basketball makes to 53 percent. And the owners were saying, no, you're going to take 50 percent.

The last thing that David Stern said before the players disbanded their union was the next offer's going to be 47 percent. So who knows if it'll go down to that and who knows what the latest actions are. But the entrenchment doesn't seem to have budged or moved one iota.

INSKEEP: Well, when you talk about entrenchment, it makes me remember that in negotiations like this there's the matter of substance and substantive differences, but also the matter of emotion. Granting that you're not in the room but you're hearing the statements, you're observing this, what's in control here, a difference of substance or a difference of emotion?

PESCA: Well, certainly the emotion is on display. And David Stern says things like the union is hell bent on self-destruction and the union countercharges that the owners haven't been good negotiators.

But I do have to say that there is still some economic justification for each of their positions. They have not gotten to the point where you scratch your head and you say, wow, they're really going to give up so many millions or hundreds of millions of dollars and take nothing in return just to spite the other guy. It hasn't gotten to that point yet. But you know what? It's kind of close.

INSKEEP: Mike, thanks very much.

PESCA: You are welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mike Pesca, who perhaps is preparing some of the winter covering high school basketball instead. You hear Mike on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.
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