NEW YORK — The magic number was 51, but neither side would go there.
As a result: Poof! It all went up in smoke.
Some trick, eh? The ultimate disappearing act. Million of dollars, millions of fans — all of them gone quicker than you can say Abracadabra.
If commissioner David Stern is to be taken at his word, all hopes for a full 82-game NBA season are now gone after negotiations to end the lockout broke off Friday over the issue of how to divide the financial pie.
“Billy (Hunter) said the players were not willing to go a penny lower than 52 percent, he said had been getting a lot of calls from agents, and he picked up his book and walked out of the room,” Stern said, adding that “under no circumstances” could there now be a full 82-game season.
Stern also said the sides had resolved all but three issues: The split of basketball related income, the question of whether tax-paying teams would be alowed to use the mid-level exception, and whether tax-paying teams could engage in sign-and-trade transactions. Agreements were reached, Stern said, on a more punitive luxury tax rate, full payments of contracts for the upcoming season, on the maximum length of contracts (the owners acquiesed on that and agreed to the union’s demand of five-year contracts for Bird free agents, four years for others) and on several other system issues that had taken up the majority of the sides’ time as they met for nearly 30 hours over the past three days.
But then they decided to talk about the infamous “elephant in the room,” and Stern told the players the owners were willing to do a 50/50 split.
That was not what the players were expecting to hear, especially after Stern had said the previous night that everything was negotiable, and it was the moment that killed the talks.
If Stern had said 51, which would have represented a $40 million move on his part, they’d probably still be in the conference room finishing off this deal.
Instead, they climbed into their limousines and went their separate ways, leaving everyone guessing what the next step will be to put an end to this madness, and when that next step might be taken.
They are now a mere $80 million per season apart. Their sport generates $4.2 billion in annual revenues. The players have given back $200 million per season over 10 years, a total of $2 billion, which is still not enough.
So the village shall be burned in order to save it. Yes, this is as strange as it is sad and stupid.
“I would say both sides are very badly damaged. The amount of dollars lost to the owners is extraordinary, and the amount of dollars lost to the players under individual contracts is also extraordinary. There will be two severe sets of losses. But that’s what happens in a labor dispute where there’s a shutdown,” Stern said. “And invariably you could make computations about who’s going to be able to make it back and who’s not going to be able to make it back, and I’m not sure that anytime in the short run the owners will be able to make it back. And I know for a fact that in the short run the players will not be able to make it back, and probably never will be able to make it back.”
Stern said the next offer the owners will make will take into account the financial losses the owners are taking by losing a chunk of the 2011-12 season, which means the players may not like what they hear the next time the sides meet.
The owners’ next offer might very well begin with a “forty.”
“We had three different indications that led us to believe that 50/50 would get the job done,” Stern said.
Obviously, 50/50 won’t get the job done. A 51/49 offer might have.
Why didn’t Stern make a move on that number?
Only he knows the answer, and he’ll be taking it to bed with him.
Hopefully, it’ll be a sleepless night for the commissioner who wouldn’t budge when he merely needed to bend.