The NBA Lockout Timeline

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So this week was filled with more lengthy NBA lockout meetings, but no deal was reached. Next week, player representatives will go over the league’s latest revised offer. In case you’ve forgotten, here a handy timeline that helps explain how we’ve arrived at the umpteenth crucial crossroads in these negotiations.

June 21, 2005: The league and union agree on a six-year labor deal with the previous accord set to expire in nine days.

“We decided it was time to back away from the abyss and see if we could get a deal,” says Billy Hunter, the union executive director.

The deal is perceived as an improvement for owners and includes the additions of an age limit, smaller annual raises and reduces the longest length of contracts by one year. The union’s success comes in staving off the implementation of a hard salary cap.

Sept. 29, 2006: Eight owners of small market teams sign a petition and send it Commissioner David Stern’s way. The letter says the league needs to address the increasing disparity in revenue between their teams and the larger markets and is first reported by the Seattle Times.

“We are asking you to embrace this issue because the hard truth is that our current economic system works only for larger-market teams and a few teams that have extraordinary success on the court and for the latter group of teams, only when they experience extraordinary success,” the letter reads. “The rest of us are looking at significant and unacceptable annual financial losses.”

Oct. 23, 2008: Stern is asked about the league’s next labor agreement during his season tip-off conference call with reporters. He responds that the goal of collective bargaining is to make the league more competitive.

“But I think it’s premature for me to speculate now, other than to say our owners are going to be very focused, and it’s our goal, actually, to appoint a labor relations committee this season, and begin discussions with the players for a successor agreement much sooner than the expiration of the next three years,” he says.

Feb. 15, 2009: The NBA and union open negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement during All-Star Weekend in Phoenix. Stern and Hunter appear together at a news conference with NBA legend Bill Russell and it is announced the finals MVP award will be named after him.

“And the beauty of the NBA is that we have this perpetual flow of extraordinary talent that flows into Billy’s union, for whom he gets 57 percent of every dollar that we generate,” Stern says. “We spend 43 percent on other expenses and the owners wind up with nothing. That’s what they tell me, anyway. Or that’s what I tell Billy.”

“And I don’t accept it,” Hunter replies.

“That’s right,” Stern says.

“I think it is fair to say that we, the one thing we are not going to get into an argument about are, what the facts are,” Stern adds. “We meet with the union regularly. We turn over everything we possibly can. We may argue about what they say, but you are not going to be able to argue about what they are, because it is too important a subject.”

Feb. 22, 2009: David Falk, the former agent of Michael Jordan and a central figure in the league’s 1998-99 lockout, forecasts to the New York Times that a lockout in two years could be extreme.

“The owners have the economic wherewithal to shut the thing down for two years, whatever it takes, to get a system that will work long term,” Falk says. “The players do not have the economic wherewithal to sit out one year.”

April 13, 2009: Stern is asked about the owners assuming a hard line and the possibility of a 50-50 split of basketball-related income between the players and owners.

“I mean, one man’s drastic is another man’s not so drastic,” Stern says. “You know, I don’t know. You’re throwing out there a 15 percent reduction in salary, competition, that’s what you’re suggesting. I don’t know what the position will ultimately be.”

July 14, 2009: The NBA’s board of governors convene in Las Vegas and Stern announces that that less than half of the league’s 30 teams turned a profit in the 2008-09 season. “There is complete agreement that we need to look for a system that keeps our players — as well paid as they are — at the top of the heap, but on the other hand returns the league to profitability at the same time,” he says.

Jan. 29, 2010: The union receives the league’s first proposal. It suggests drastic changes to the current agreement and includes implementing a hard salary cap, roll backs on existing contracts and shortening the length of contracts.

Feb. 12. 2010: LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony are among the star players in attendance at the league’s bargaining session at All-Star Weekend in Dallas in a show-of-strength statement.

“Our position was it was a nonstarter,” Hunter says of the league’s first proposal. He also called it, “The first round of a 15-round fight.”

Feb. 13, 2010: Stern projects league-wide losses for the 2009-2010 NBA season at $400 million. Stern also says that a union lawyer, Jeffrey Kessler, threatens that the union could decertify and throw the negotiations into uncertainty.

June 3, 2010: Stern says that reaching a new labor agreement is the league’s top priority before the start of a finals match-up that pits the Lakers against the Celtics.

Sept. 29, 2010: Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is fined $100,000 by the NBA for his comments about potential labor changes to a group of businessman.

“In a salary cap era — and soon a hard salary cap in the NBA like it’s in the NHL — if everyone can pay the same amount to the same amount of players, it’s the small nuanced differences that matter,” Leonsis said, according to the Associated Press.

Feb. 18, 2011: “There has been ongoing debate and disagreement regarding the numbers and we do not agree that the stated loss figures reflect an accurate portrayal of the financial health of the league,” Hunter says in a statement.

May 24, 2011: The union files a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that accuses the league of negotiating in bad faith and not fully disclosing financial documents. Stern is identified as David S. Stern in the filings. His middle name is Joel.

July 1, 2011: The lockout begins. “The expiring collective bargaining agreement created a broken system that produced huge financial losses for our teams,” NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver says in a statement. “We need a sustainable business model that allows all 30 teams to be able to compete for a championship, fairly compensates our players, and provides teams, if well-managed, with an opportunity to be profitable.”

July 7, 2011: Deron Williams opts to play in Turkey during the lockout to the surprise of many and becomes the first high-profile player to declare his intentions of playing overseas during the lockout. (He remains the most high-profile player to make that decision, as many other All-Star opt to play in charity games or summer leagues throughout the country.)

July 22, 2011: The audit is finalized for the 2010-11 NBA season. BRI increases by 4.8 percent to 3.643 billion and the average player salary is $5.15 million.

Aug 1, 2011: The league and union resume negotiations (Granted, this is a pretty straightforward run-down. But the lapse and lack of urgency between when the lockout started and when meetings resumed makes no rational sense at all). Kevin Durant drops 66 points in a Rucker Park game.

Aug. 2, 2011: The NBA files two claims against the union: an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB that argues that the union is not negotiating in good faith with threats to decertify and file an antitrust lawsuit. The federal lawsuit seeks to establish that the lockout is not in violation of federal antitrust laws and that if the union decertified, all existing player contracts would be wiped out.

Aug. 3, 2011: Hunter tells a group of lawyers that the entire 2011-12 NBA season is in danger, according to the Baltimore Sun.

“The circumstances have changed among [David Stern’s] constituency,” Hunter says. “In the last six or seven years, there is a new group of owners to come in who paid a premium for their franchises, and what they’re doing is kind of holding his feet to the fire.”

Sept. 14, 2011: ESPN reports that a number of high-profile agents hold a conference call suggesting that the union decertify.

Sept. 23, 2011: The NBA indefinitely postpones training camp and cancels 43 preseason games. “We have regretfully reached the point on the calendar where we are not able to open training camps on time and need to cancel the first week of preseason games,” Silver says in a statement. “We will make further decisions as warranted.”

Oct. 4, 2011: The NBA cancels the rest of the preseason.

Oct. 10, 2011: The NBA cancels the first two weeks of the regular season.

Oct. 18, 2011: Federal mediator George Cohen joins the talks to serve as a buffer between the sides. No agreement is reached and Cohen withdraws from the talks (he will return for another session later). On the same day, On HBO’s Real Sports, Bryant Gumbel received strong rebukes from both sides for this statement: “Stern’s version of what has been going on behind closed doors has of course been disputed, but his efforts were typical of a commissioner who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys. It’s part of Stern’s M.O., like his past self-serving edicts on dress code and the questioning of officials. His moves were intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.”

Oct. 20, 2011: Talks break off when the union says the league delivers an ultimatum to accept a 50-50 split in revenue. Hunter says the union made “concession after concession after concession … and it’s just not enough.” He adds that Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert told players to trust his gut in that if they agreed to a 50-50 split, the salary cap issues would be amenable. “I can’t trust your gut,” Hunter recalls saying afterward. “I got to trust my own gut. There’s no way in the world I’m going to trust your gut on whether or not you’re going to be open and amenable to making the changes in the system that we think are necessary and appropriate.”

Oct. 28, 2011: All games are cancelled through November. “We trusted you one more time and one more time,” Hunter says of negotiating with the league. “It’s sort of like the serpent and the frog. You’ve bitten us. We’re not prepared to move. They got to the place where again it was 50-50 take it or leave it. That’s what it came down to at the end.”

Oct. 29, 2011: Foxsports.com reports that Hunter and an unnamed member of the union’s executive committee confronted Derek Fisher, the NBPA’s president, about their belief that he had cut a private deal with the league to deliver a deal at a 50-50 split.

Oct. 31, 2011: Stern fines Miami owner Micky Arison $500,000 for his tweet in response to a disgruntled fan. (“Honestly u r barking at the wrong owner,” is the offending message.)

Tea leaf readers took the reply as verification of a fraction between some of the league’s larger and smaller market owners. At an earlier session, Hunter said as much by stating that some owners wanted to make a deal and specifically named Arison, Dallas’s Mark Cuban, New York’s James Dolan, and the Lakers’ Jerry Buss.

Nov. 1, 2011: Fisher defends himself in a letter to players. “Usually I wouldn’t even dignify absurd media reports with a comment,” he writes. “But before these reports go any further, let me say on the record to each of you [that] my loyalty has and always will be with the players.”

Nov. 4, 2011: Several media outlets report that nearly 50 players hold a conference call discussing and learning the ins and outs of decertifying the union.

Nov. 4, 2011: The New York Times reports that Michael Jordan is part of a group of 10-14 hardline owners dismayed that the league upped their offer to a 50-50 split.

Nov. 6, 2011: Stern delivers an ultimatum to the union in a letter reported by multiple media outlets. He gives the union until 5 p.m. on Nov. 9 to accept a 50-50 proposal or have the league’s proposal reset to a 53-47 split in favor of the owners. “Rather than simply proceeding, as we could have, to offer a less favorable proposal at this time, the N.B.A. is providing an additional period of time for the players association to consider our 50/50 proposal,” the letter states. “We are hopeful that the prospect of a less favorable outcome for the players will prompt the players association to realize that the best deal that can be reached is the one the N.B.A. is prepared to make right now.”

Nov. 8, 2011: Kessler, the union attorney, tells the Washington Post: “To present that in the context of ‘take it or leave it,’ in our view, that is not good faith. “Instead of treating the players like partners, they’re treating them like plantation workers.”

Nov. 9, 2011: Kessler issues an apology. “The comments that I made in The Washington Post took place in an interview late at night Monday after a very long day,” he says in a statement. “Looking back, the words that I used were inappropriate; I did not intend to offend. I was merely passionately advocating for the players.”

Nov. 9, 2011: The league and union agree to meet hours before Stern’s ultimatum deadline kicks in. The session stretches late into the evening and the ultimatum is pushed aside. The sides agree to resume meeting.

Nov. 10, 2011: The league delivers a “revised” proposal to the union, which includes installing a 72-game season that would begin on Dec. 15. Hunter says he will have the player representatives review the proposal on either Monday or Tuesday. “There comes a time when you have to be through negotiating, and we are,” Stern says. If the union does not ratify the offer, the league’s next proposal will be the reduced one: a 53-47 split of revenues, a flex cap with a hard ceiling and salary rollbacks.

Previously by Jonathan Abrams:
After Marathon NBA Lockout Session, a Ride With Billy Hunter
What Would a Compressed NBA Season Look Like? A Historical Perspective
Q&A: Greivis Vasquez
Q&A: Derrick Williams
Reporting on the Reporting From Friday’s NBA Lockout Meeting (Updates)
The Winter of Jerry West


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Filed Under: David Stern, Jonathan Abrams, NBA, NBA Lockout

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Jonathan Abrams is a staff writer for Grantland. He is working on a book about the NBA’s prep-to-pro generation of players.

Archive @ JPdabrams