NBA Cancels Opening Weeks

The NBA took the unprecedented step Tuesday of canceling regular season games after collective bargaining talks between owners and players broke off after about 3 1/2 hours.

The league was the only major professional sport that hadn't lost a game because of a work stoppage, but that perfect record is now history.

Deputy commissioner Russ Granik said the first two weeks of games from Nov. 3-16 will not be made up.

The next move in the dispute will come from the owners, who will deliver a counterproposal later this week.

"It doesn't look promising," commissioner David Stern said. "The reality is that the owners had no choice."

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Stern and Granik made the announcement late in the afternoon at a midtown Manhattan hotel after the sides had met for two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The players made a counterproposal in the morning, addressing the owners' concern for cost certainty by asking for a luxury tax that would be paid by owners who sign players to exorbitant contracts.

Stern said the idea of a tax was something the owners would look at, but by itself it was not enough to stop the league from canceling games for the first time in its history.

And With that, the NBA's 51-year streak of 35,001 consecutive games came to an end.

"We had a somewhat more constructive dialogue, but it's hard to say if we got closer to an agreement," Granik said. "We promised to come back with our own set of proposals."

Russ Granik
Deputy commissioner Russ Granik says Tuesday's talks were a bit more constructive, but that doesn't help NBA fans. (AP)

The owners imposed the lockout July 1, and the summer and early fall passed with the sides meeting only twice for formal bargaining sessions. The talks Tuesday were the third between the sides.

Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Ray Allen, Antonio Davis and John Starks were among the players who attended the meeting. The owners were represented by Gordon Gund (Cleveland), Les Alexander (Houston), Abe Pollin (Washington), David Checktts (New York) and Jerry Colangelo (Phoenix).

"We're going to try to step up and talk about the issues they've raised," union director Billy Hunter said as he arrived. "We've got a response, but if they're inclined to wait for Dean Feerick then nothing's going to happen."

Arbitrator John Feerick, Dean of Fordham Law School, is expected rule in a week or two on a union grievance that more than 200 players with guaranteed contracts must be paid during the lockout.

An agreement in principle had to be reached by Tuesday to preserve the 82-game season.

The season was scheduled to begin Nov. 3, but it could conceivably have been pushed back a week or so to give teams about four weeks to make trades, sign about 200 free agents and hold abbreviated training camps.

In the last labor agreement in 1995, the owners agreed to pay the players between 48 percent and 51.8 percent of revenues. If the percentage went higher -- and owners claim it reached 57 percent last season -- the owners had the right to toss out the old deal and seek a new one, which they did.

They have demanded "cost certainty" from the players, meaning they want to put an absolute ceiling on the amount of money that can be devoted to payrolls.

The Union calls such a system a "hard" salary cap and has vowed not to accept one.

"In terms of reaching a deal, this is the worst we've ever had," Granik said earlier. "We've never gotten to this point without being able to make a deal.

"The players have to participate in some deal that lowers the percentage of revenues being paid to salaries. But they don't see that as their responsibility at all."