x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Season of uncertainty looms for NBA

League is shut down after last-ditch negotiation talks fails to produce a resolution.

David Stern, the NBA commissioner, says: ‘There has to be a return on the investment we are making.’
David Stern, the NBA commissioner, says: ‘There has to be a return on the investment we are making.’

NEW YORK // A lockout of NBA players by club owners began one minute after midnight local time yesterday (8.01am UAE time), setting up a league shutdown that threatens the 2011/12 NBA season.

After a three-hour negotiating session failed on Thursday, NBA owners ordered the first work stoppage since the 1998/99 season was slashed from 82 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 David Stern, the NBA commissioner.

The pressure of lost income will not push talks for several months since the most recent NBA campaign ended on June 12, but that means talks might not become serious until October when training camps usually start.

The lockout means teams cannot conduct trades, sign out-of-contract players or have 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. Stern and Billy Hunter, the NBA players union executive director, 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."

Stern said that teams collectively are losing US$300 million (Dh1.10 billion) per season, and the owners and players face a huge divide in their financial proposals.

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

The players made a final pitch at the Thursday meeting but Stern said it would have raised the average player salary from $5m, the level the NBA was willing to accept, to $7m 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."

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