The NBA lockout continues and it doesn’t appear that it will be resolved any time soon. It’s really no surprise. Many people saw this coming, including Executive Director of the NBA Players Association, Billy Hunter, who has prepared his players for a lockout for the last few years. There are three glaring issues that Hunter talks about during the course of this interview. The number one issue being how the two sides will split the revenue. They also need to agree on the length of contracts and whether or not there will be a hard cap in the NBA. The first two weeks of the regular season have already been cancelled and until each side bends a little bit on those three issues, more games could be in danger, as could the entire season. Billy Hunter joined WFAN in New York with Mike Francesa to talk about where negotiations stand between the players and the owners in the NBA, what is the latest offer from the players side of the negotiations, if he thinks the owners are really hurting as much as they are saying to the media, whether or not he saw this lockout coming, if the players would accept a hard cap in negotiations, if the players are standing by him through negotiations, and whether or not he thinks the owners are willing to miss the entire season.
If he thinks the owners are really hurting as much as they are saying to the media:
“We don’t believe they’re hurting as much as they tell the media they’re hurting. Based upon our estimation there may be seven or eight teams that really need some help. We think those seven or eight teams can be accommodated through revenue sharing which is something we’ve pushed pretty strenuously in our meetings with the owners. I think the big problem now, the big bugaboo, is the fact that I think there is a tug of war going on internally within management between the respective teams, big markets and small markets.”
What is the latest offer from the player’s side?
“Our latest offer, the one that is on the table is that we would take a reduction, we would cut back from the 57 to an average of 53 over six years. (Host: You were willing to go back to 53?) That 53 would give them about something like 200 million per year. (Host: What was their offer to you?) Their offer originally, they were at about 37 or 38 percent. (Host: From 47?) That’s correct they started at 45 percent and they wanted to roll back to 37 percent over eight years.”
On the idea that everyone saw a lockout coming:
“David Stern promised me a lockout three years ago. We had a private meeting and he told me at that time that he told the owners he would get them what they wanted as long as they agree to a lockout of at least a year.”
Whether or not they have been offered a 50-50 split of the revenue:
“They had offered 50-50 and then they said we didn’t accept it or there was some breakdown in the discussions. Remember the other day it was reported that it was a side bar and it was never really offered to me, it was a discussion that they had had allegedly with Derek Fisher and Jeffrey Kessler. It was a discussion between Adam Silver and David Stern and those two in a hall. (Host: You had never got that offer so that doesn’t count as far as you’re concerned right?) No it counted but they said they wanted to go back to their 47. So I said ‘okay you are at 47 and we are at 53.”
If the players would accept a hard cap:
“Now they have agreed over the last month that they would agree to a soft cap but it had to be with an egregious tax. Two to one, three to one, four to one, etc. Right now it is one to one.”
Whether or not they would like a contract set-up like football where contracts aren’t fully guaranteed:
“You’re right and we don’t want that kind of system. The players are responsible for generating the revenue and a lot of people benefit as a consequence of their services so why in the world should they not have guaranteed contracts? Listen there’s a short window in a professional athlete’s life. A guy spends all his life getting here and the average length of a player’s career is four years. We always read about the Kobe Bryant’s and the others around 14, 15, or 16 years, but there are other guys that get cycled in and out.”
If his players are behind him on the stance he is taking in negotiations:
“They are so far Mike. We spent about two years getting them ready and we prepared them for the worst case scenario because I knew as I’ve indicated to you that the lockout was gonna occur two years ago. I can’t get away from the fact that David told me that they were going to lockout, that there were certain things they wanted and I said the only way you are going to get them is if you agree to and adopt an extended lockout. I think everything he’s done is convinced me that was their plan all along.”
Whether or not he thinks the owners would be willing to miss the entire season:
“I would hope that they wouldn’t but you can’t tell. I think there are some owners who probably feel that they would do better if the entire season was lost so they could put more money in their pocket. I think the damage that would be done to the game would be insurmountable and I don’t think we would recover from it. It’s like putting a gun to your head. If you think things are that bad that you want to wipe yourself out then have at it. My players have the resolve. I don’t intend to lead them over the abyss. I intend to get a fair, equitable deal for them. If, in the end, if the players determine we have to go in a different direction then I have to follow what it is they want to do.”
If he thinks the owners are negotiating fairly or unfairly:
“I think they want to break us. I think they want to break us. I can’t say it any louder than that. They have to break us if they’re planning on running the table. They have to break us. As the Director of the Union I can’t capitulate to all of the demands that the NBA is asking for. They give you no choice. You have to fight and that’s what we have done.