PRO BASKETBALL; N.B.A. Owners Cool To Players' Proposal
By MIKE WISE
Published: Thursday, October 15, 1998
Players searched for a good pickup game, owners digested a new proposal and each side anxiously awaited an arbitration decision. The day after canceling regular-season games because of a labor dispute for the first time in its 51-year history, the National Basketball Association was marking time yesterday.
The only certainty was that Tuesday's proposal by the players would not have an impact, two league officials said on the condition of anonymity. The league plans to respond today to the players' proposal to impose a system in which money would be taken from upper-echelon salaries.
Any notion that the owners would be willing to budge was dispelled yesterday by Dave Checketts, the Madison Square Garden president. Delivering a presentation on ''Sports in the Next Millennium'' at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan, Checketts drew a distinction between the N.B.A's lockout and Major League Baseball's players strike in 1994-95.
''People ask me, 'Why didn't you learn anything from what baseball did, the way they destroyed their product?' And my response to them is, if we learned anything from baseball it is that we must keep them out as long as it takes,'' Checketts said, referring to baseball's work stoppage in 1994-95. ''They didn't hold them out long enough. And as a result, even though baseball had a major comeback, we know that baseball is going to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million this year.''
Checketts is a member of the league's ownership committee and was one of five members to attend a bargaining session with the players on Tuesday. As the president of the Knicks, a big-market franchise whose profits continue to grow, Checketts and owners like Jerry Colangelo of Phoenix are perceived to have less of a hard-line approach to negotiations and more apt to reach a settlement than many small-market, cash-strapped owners.
Checketts risked being fined because of Commissioner David Stern's leaguewide mandate to fine N.B.A. employees who speak openly about the lockout. But then, Checketts's words hardly spoke of divisiveness among the owners.
''Even though we'd like to say we should learn from baseball -- what they did to the World Series and when they went through this long labor situation, it ruined the sport,'' Checketts said. ''It ruined fan interest. People were angry at the game. But the reality is, once they had incurred that damage, the mistake they made was coming back too soon, perhaps, and not getting a labor agreement that would carry them into the next century.''
After talks broke off on Tuesday, the season's first two weeks were canceled, 99 games from Nov. 3 through Nov. 16. Neither the owners nor the players expressed optimism that a settlement was near.
Both sides are awaiting the decision of the Fordham Law School dean, John D. Feerick, before the weekend. Feerick is deciding whether more than 200 players with $800 million in guaranteed contracts should be paid during the lockout. If the N.B.A. loses the arbitration, it is expected to appeal and perhaps tie the matter up in court for several months.
Tuesday's cancellations triggered inquiries about the lost games; the most common involved scheduling. Where one team might play its first five games on the road and the next three at home, another team might play its first three on the road and next five at home. If the season were to pick up after Nov. 16, discrepancies in home dates and away dates could cause major consternation.
The Knicks, for example, would play their first six games on the road -- including four games in five nights -- if play were to resume in mid-November.
''They're going to have to make it equitable for everyone,'' one Western Conference general manager said yesterday. ''If they don't, people are going to go positively nuts over other teams with favorable schedules. It would not constitute a real season in a lot of people's minds.''
The N.B.A. was not entirely dismayed by the players' most recent proposal, one league official said. A restricted free-agency clause that would give teams the right of first refusal on free agents after their fourth year with a team would bring minor relief to the current three-year rookie scale.
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