NBA lockout passes quickly Brief stoppage delays free-agent talks 2 days

July 10, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

Contract talks for some of the NBA's top free agents -- including Washington Bullets forward Juwan Howard -- will get under way tomorrow after the league yesterday briefly imposed a lockout, only to reverse itself later after finally reaching an agreement with the players association.

Yesterday's lockout, coming after both sides initially could not reach an agreement in the dispersal of $50 million in profit sharing, forced the cancellation of talks yesterday between the Bullets and Howard that were to take place at the Chevy Chase offices of agent David Falk. Discussions will not be allowed to take place until 5 p.m. tomorrow.

"I don't want to make too much of it because I don't think it's a major catastrophe," Bullets general manager Wes Unseld said. "I think the league and the players came to their senses quite quickly and decided they didn't want this to happen."

Coming about a year after the league locked out players for three months last summer, yesterday's lockout lasted for less than three hours. The two sides, which had tentatively agreed to a new deal just prior to the July 1 deadline for a lockout, couldn't come to an agreement yesterday over how to split $50 million in profit sharing from television revenues. The union wanted all the money to go toward player salaries, and the league wanted it split 50-50.

That led to a breakdown in talks. When the two sides finally got back together they settled their differences, although neither side revealed the exact money split in the final agreement.

"Money issues are usually open to compromise, and a satisfactory amount of that television money will be included," in future salary cap increases, said union attorney Jeffrey Kessler. "Both sides agree there are no more open issues."

Discussions were to begin yesterday for the biggest group of free agents in league history, including such stars as Michael Jordan, Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O'Neal. Although approval is expected for a final collective bargaining agreement, teams will not be allowed to make offers until 5 p.m. tomorrow. Teams in violation of that moratorium face tampering fines of $5 million.

Unseld said the delay will have no bearing on the Bullets' approach to the bargaining table.

"There's not a whole lot going on where waiting two or three days is going to affect us," Unseld said.

The first-year general manager said he knows exactly what approach he'll take when the bargaining session for the services of Howard gets under way.

"It's not a process of gearing up -- I know where I want to be, what I want to say, and how I want to negotiate this," Unseld said. "I don't know if this will agree with Mr. Falk, but we'll find out once we get down there."

Pub Date: 7/10/96

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