NBA, players agree on urgency but little else after six-hour meeting
NEW YORK -- "It's good that we're meeting."
Those were the carefully chosen words NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver used multiple times when asked about Wednesday's six-hour collective bargaining session with representatives from the players' union. Addressing a small group or reporters outside Manhattan's Lowell Hotel, Silver and commissioner David Stern were not inclined to offer many more details.
"We're not going to get a deal done unless we spend time together and that's progress unto itself given how infrequently we have met since the lockout began," Silver said. "It's difficult to characterize the meeting other than there is no question both sides want to avoid missing games, or missing training camp for that matter. Everyone was very engaged today. We discussed virtually everything that was on the table. And there was an agreement that we need to continue meeting and pick up the pace."
Minutes earlier, union president Derek Fisher delivered a similar message.
"We didn't waste a lot of time at all," Fisher said. "But we still have a lot of work to do and that's what we are going to focus on. As a group, we agreed to continue to focus on getting the deal done and try and stay away from the verbal jabs and the back-and-forth and really try to remain focused on the deal points. It's not in anyone's best interest to get into what happens in the meetings from here on out. There is too much to go through to try and come out of meetings saying what did and didn't happen. Things seem to get spun out of control either by us or by them."
If the NBA and the union agreed on one thing Wednesday, it was this: The p.r. war has to stop. From Stern insinuating that the players were not well-informed on the issues, to one side tossing out facts and figures the other side quickly disputes, to discussing the optimism or pessimism of getting a deal done in time to salvage a season on an almost daily basis, the rhetoric has spun out of control. Even Stern's salary (is it $23 million? $15 million? $9 million?) and vacation schedule had become fodder for players on Twitter.
The days of negotiating through the media are over, declared Stern, Silver and Fisher. Fine. But on several occasions, three of the most influential men involved in the negotiations were given opportunities to portray Wednesday's meeting in a positive light, to offer millions of fans the slightest glimmer of hope.
Each time, they passed.
Even with Stern, Silver and Fisher primarily using vague statements and speaking in clichés, it didn't take a genius to realize the league and the union are still nowhere. Consider: Fisher was asked whether the union's position on the economic issues had changed significantly.
"I wouldn't say there is a change in either side in our approach or ideologically," Fisher said. "We're in the same place. We're where we have always been in terms of certain components."
That's bad because the same place is no place. There are lots of things the NBA and the union can agree on. On economics, they don't. And until the Grand Canyon-sized gap between what the owners want the players to give up (a $7.6 billion reduction in salaries over the next six years) and what the players are willing to sacrifice ($630 million over six years) is bridged, there can't be any significant progress. And Fisher's comments suggest the financial issues are still significant obstacles that they are nowhere closer to getting around.
There will be more meetings, of course. Neither side would say when or where but both spoke of a growing sense of urgency to work something out.
"We're not apart on an agreed urgency to get a deal done," Silver said. "We're not apart on a need to avoid missing games and we're not apart on the agreed impact [a lockout] will have, not just on our teams and our players but the communities in which they operate as well."
Said Fisher, "From this day forward we're going to make a greater effort to put the time in to get this deal done. There won't be any other discussion of how, why, when, where. No one else's is going to know. We're going to get the work done."
There will likely be fewer people doing the work, too. At least in the room. Six people were involved in Wednesday's bargaining session --Stern, Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt representing the league, and Fisher, union executive director Billy Hunter and attorney Ron Klepner representing the players -- a small number Stern indicated was helpful in negotiations.
The pressure will be on them. Thanks to the surge of interest in the NFL, the NBA's labor dispute has flown under the radar. But training camps are scheduled to open in less than a month. Stern said he was not ready to set any deadlines, but by mid-September the league will have to start talking about cancelling preseason games. Progress needs to be made, quickly.