NBA dunks dispute

October 28, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

A lockout by owners cost National Hockey League fans the start of their season, and a strike by players cost Major League Baseball fans the end of theirs.

But the National Basketball Association owners and players announced yesterday that the season that starts a week from today will be enjoyed from start to finish.

Despite being without a collective bargaining agreement since the end of last season, both sides yesterday agreed to a no-strike, no-lockout pledge that guarantees the start of the regular season on Nov. 4.

"The 1994-95 season through and including our finals will be played in their entirety," commissioner David Stern said at a news conference yesterday in New York.

The announcement puts basketball, along with football, front and center in the eyes of sports fans. Baseball would right now be in the middle of the World Series if not for its strike. Hockey appeared to be on an upswing with last season's exciting playoffs and finals, but its players are now looking into European tours during the monthlong lockout.

"I'm delighted we're going to play," Bullets general manager John Nash said. "I'm delighted it appears as if both sides believe it's possible to achieve an agreement in the foreseeable future. We have a marvelous opportunity to play in the center ring of professional sports.

"I really think what's happening with hockey and baseball is a result of them not having the type of arrangement we already have -- which is a partnership of our players whereby we divide revenue. Baseball players struck because they didn't want a salary cap, and hockey players have been locked out because they refuse to accept a salary cap. We already have one."

That cap was established in 1983, at a time when the league was struggling financially. With the cap, players were guaranteed 53 percent of the gross revenues from teams.

The players association believes, in the current healthier financial climate, that the cap is outdated. So it is seeking the abolishment of the cap, the draft and the limits on movements of restricted free agents.

"We think our players are uniquely talented and we think their salaries should be commensurate with that without any restrictions," Charles Grantham, who heads the players association, said yesterday.

A lawsuit was filed challenging the cap, but in July a federal judge ruled that the cap, draft and right of first refusal did not violate antitrust laws. The union is awaiting a decision on its TC appeal, but Judge Kevin Duffy, at the time of the ruling, urged the two sides to return to the bargaining table.

After failing to talk for several months, Stern and Grantham have led both sides in discussions in recent days.

"The integrity of the game is the victor here," Grantham said of yesterday's no-strike, no-lockout agreement. "It's clear we have a long way to go, a long, hard negotiation ahead of us."

On Oct. 5, Stern quashed talk of a possible lockout, saying the season would start on schedule and the league would negotiate a system designed to fairly divide revenues with players.

"We need a fair system," Stern said yesterday. "In our case, the question is what's a fair amount for the players to have. That's what we want to come up with. If we do that, we don't have to caught up on the label [cap]."

The NBA was sued this week by David Wood of the Golden State Warriors and Howard Eisley of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who charged that the salary cap has been artificially reduced by $74 million. As part of yesterday's agreement, the lawsuits will be stayed until the end of the 1995 NBA Finals.

"Obviously, there are pending litigations that have to be addressed," Stern said.

And he also addressed rumors from earlier this week that the league owners would hold a lockout vote next Monday in Chicago.

"The Board of Governors has been told it can go trick-or-treating on Monday [Halloween]," Stern said.

CONTRACT FREEZE TO AFFECT HOWARD TALKS?

As part of yesterday's no-strike, no-lockout pledge by the NBA, it also was announced that all contracts other than those of rookies would be frozen as of Nov. 8 -- an announcement that could affect the negotiations of Washington Bullets first-round pick Juwan Howard.

The freezing of all nonrookie contracts on Nov. 8 means that no negotiations or amendments can be made until a new collective bargaining agreement is signed. Howard, through his agent David Falk, reportedly is seeking a six-year, $24 million contract. The Bullets are offering 10 years, $30.7 million.

The only Bullets salary slot available for this season is $1.4 million, and it has been rumored that Falk might get clients Calbert Cheaney and Rex Chapman to restructure their deals to get Howard more first-year money.

With yesterday's announcement, such a restructuring would have to be done by Nov. 8. Bullets general manager John Nash, reached at his office yesterday, would not comment on the negotiations. Falk would not return a phone call by The Sun.

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