NBA labor talks came to an abrupt halt Thursday when commissioner David Stern and several owners walked out of the meeting after hearing the players' latest proposal.
"In our minds, if anything, we had a step backward today," deputy commissioner Russ Granik said. "They basically said they want to see how they do on the legal front before they're going to do any real bargaining. That's basically what they said."
The meeting, attended by more than a dozen players and a half-dozen owners, lasted about 1 1/2 hours in the morning before breaking for lunch. When the talks resumed, the players spent about 15 minutes outlining their new proposal.
"They got up and walked out," union director Billy Hunter said. "It seemed more feigned than anything else. It looked like a charade."
"They acted like my 4-year-old daughter," said Karl Malone, who attended a bargaining session for the first time in his career.
Thursday's meeting was the first since June 22, when talks broke off after only 30 minutes. The owners imposed a lockout eight days later.
The players' latest offer was a surprise, since Hunter and Granik said Wednesday they did not know who should feel compelled to submit the next formal proposal.
Owners have made four different offers, while the players had made only one when talks began April 1.
The sides remain far apart on economic issues, especially on what percentage of basketball-related income (BRI) should be devoted toward player salaries. The owners had the right to toss out the old labor agreement if salaries rose above 52 percent of BRI, and that number jumped to 57 percent last season.
In their offer put on the table April 1, the players offered to slow future salary cap growth if the BRI number exceeded 63 percent. They deleted that offer in Thursday's proposal, replacing it with an adjustment to the 20-percent raise rule.
"We're not going to give them both. Both is too much, union attorney Jeffrey Kessler said.
Under the old collective bargaining agreement, most contracts were limited to 20 percent salary increases each season. In their latest proposal, the players asked for minimum raises of 10 percent with maximum raises tied to the percentage of growth in league revenues.
"They walked out as soon as they saw we weren't going to make a proposal that incorporated a hard (salary) cap," Hunter said.
"We could have told them anything and they would have walked out," Malone said. "If I hadn't been here, I would not have believed this. It's hard to believe someone is taking their ball and going home."
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