Welcome to the NBA’s version of poker.Where players and owners each maintain a tight grip on their whole cards, unwilling to fold.
Commissioner David Stern made the first power move, pushing owners’ chips to the middle Saturday night, when he presented players with an ultimatum to accept a 50-50 revenue split by 5:00 pm Wednesday.
So with just over 24 hours remaining until Stern’s imposed deadline, Derek Fisher and other team representatives emerged from a union meeting to announce that they are calling Stern’s bluff.
“Our orders are clear right now the current offer that is on the table from the NBA is not one we are able to accept,” Fisher told reporters.
Fisher said the union wants to continue negotiating, but will not do so from a position of weakness. While players have been willing to make major concessions regarding revenue split, they will not budge on system issues.
“It’s time now for the NBA to make significant compromises in the system,” Fisher said.
This is significant as players finally sound willing to accept a 50-50 deal. But that is reliant on owner’s compromising with them on several major issues including sign-and-trade deals and mid-level player exceptions for teams spending over the luxury tax.
How risky a proposition is calling the owner’s bluff? Very.
Stern is on record saying his offer would roll back to a 47 per cent revenue share for players after Wednesday’s deadline passes. Even Stern’s current offer has been opposed by a group of hard-line owners, led by Michael Jordan, who oppose an equal revenue split.
The idea that owners would retreat from their position and give in to the union after the clock strikes 5:00 Wednesday afternoon seems unlikely.
Yet that is the line that 43 NBA players in attendance at the Manhattan meetings – representing 29 of 30 NBA teams – and Billy Hunter announced they are willing to toe.
“We’ll just wait and see what it is the league does,” Hunter said in regards to the imposed deadline. “I’m convinced that they would come back and do 50-50 deal.”
But if owners don’t, Hunter said he heard through the “underground” that games would officially be canceled through Christmas.
There was “very little discussion” of union decertification. Which illustrates the players’ commitment to continuing negotiations. Hunter said he would try calling Stern tonight or Wednesday morning for one final meeting before the deadline.
The union continues to play a risky game. We will find out tomorrow if it was worth the reward.
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