NEW YORK -- Late Tuesday afternoon, following more than three hours of mostly fruitless collective bargaining negotiations, NBA commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt approached the union representatives with an informal offer. According to the NBA, that offer -- made to union attorney Jeffrey Kessler, president Derek Fisher and players Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett -- was for a straight 50-50 split of all basketball-related income, under the current definition of BRI.
"Adam and I felt comfortable and confident that we would be able to report to the players that we could move to the next subject," Stern told reporters, "because the split had been accomplished."
While admitting a private offer was made -- an offer NBPA executive director Billy Hunter did not acknowledge during a news conference -- union sources dispute the NBA's numbers. According to multiple sources, the offer was for a guarantee of 49 percent of the BRI with a max of 51 percent. Still, union representatives took the offer back to the group. A short time later, they countered with a proposal for a guarantee of 51 percent of the BRI with a cap at 53 percent. That offer, sources said, was rejected.
Union officials were furious that Stern publicly disclosed the offer. Some believe it was put out to drive a wedge between the union, which thus far has been largely represented by veteran players making mid-seven- or eight-figure salaries. And in some ways, it had that effect. Three role players told SI.com via text message that, while needing further details, a 50-50 split sounded fair.
Most perplexing is that with the gap starting to close -- at one point the two sides were $8 billion apart over a 10-year deal -- they are walking away from the bargaining table. The NBA canceled the remainder of the preseason on Tuesday (at a cost, according to Stern, of $200 million) and on Monday plan to wipe out the first two weeks of the regular season if no deal is reached. While both sides have publicly and privately expressed a willingness to keep negotiating ("We had a large group of owners who had flown in and were prepared to negotiate around the clock," Silver said) and a union source said there will likely be at least a phone call between Stern and Hunter before Monday, no meetings have been scheduled. While addressing the media, Hunter speculated that it could be months before the two sides sit down again.
"We're playing hardball now?" one veteran player not in the room told SI.com. "You have got to be kidding me."
Hunter now faces battles on multiple fronts. Several high-powered agents are pushing for the union to decertify and make the labor negotiations a court fight. These agents are adamantly opposed to the union cutting any kind of deal that guarantees them anything below 52 percent of the split with most pushing for at least 54. And, whether Hunter admits it or not, there is genuine unrest among the league's role players to make a deal before an entire season is lost.