NEW YORK - NBA labor talks turned nasty and broke off Thursday when three days of meetings failed to yield a deal to end a 112-day lockout, raising the likelihood that even more games will be canceled in an already fractured season.
After 30 hours of negotiations before a federal mediator, the sides remained divided over two main issues - the division of revenues and the structure of the salary cap system.
“Ultimately, we were unable to bridge the gap that separates the two parties,” NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We understand the ramifications of where we are. We’re saddened on behalf of the game.”
Without a deal, NBA Commissioner David Stern, who missed Thursday’s session with the flu, almost certainly will decide more games must be dropped.
The season was supposed to begin Nov. 1, but all games through Nov. 14 - 100 in total - already have been scrapped, costing players about $170 million in salaries.
Stern said previously that games through Christmas were in jeopardy without a deal this week. Silver said the labor committee would speak with Stern on Friday about the future schedule.
The union said owners essentially gave it an ultimatum to accept a 50-50 split of revenues, and president Derek Fisher accused management of lying to the media.
“We’ve spent the last few days making our best effort to try and find a resolution here. Not one that was necessarily a win-win. It wouldn’t be a win for us. It wouldn’t be a win for them. But one that we felt like would get our game back ... and get our guys back on the court, get our vendors back to work, get the arenas open, get these communities revitalized,” Fisher said.
“And in our opinion, that’s not what the NBA and the league is interested in at this point. They’re interested in telling you one side of the stories that are not true and this is very serious to us. This is not in any way about ego. There are a lot of people’s livelihoods at stake separate from us.”
Billy Hunter, executive director of the players’ association, said the union made “concession after concession after concession ... and it’s just not enough.”
“We’re not prepared to let them impose a system on us that eliminates guarantees, reduces contract lengths, diminishes all our increases,” he said. “We’re saying no way. We fought too long and made too many sacrifices to get where we are.”
Previously, each side had proposed receiving 53 percent of basketball-related income after players were guaranteed 57 percent under the previous collective bargaining agreement.
Silver said the league formally proposed a 50-50 revenue split Wednesday, and the union moved from 53 percent to 52.5 percent Thursday.
“Hopefully, we can get back to the table, but certainly a tough day, a very tough day,” said Peter Holt, the labor relations committee chair and owner of the San Antonio Spurs.
Asked whether the players would drop to 50 percent, Holt said he didn’t think it was that big of a jump but that the union did.
He said the league would not go above 50 percent “as of today. But never say never on anything.”
Hunter said Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert told players to trust that if they took the 50-50 split, the salary cap issues could be worked out.
Owners and players met with federal mediator George Cohen for 16 hours Tuesday, ending around 1 a.m. Wednesday, then returned just eight hours later and spent another 8-1/2 hours in discussions. The sides then met for about five hours Thursday, before calling it quits.
Cohen said the two sides weren’t able to resolve the “strongly held, competing positions that separated them on core issues.”
“In these circumstances, after carefully reviewing all of the events that have transpired, it is the considered judgment of myself ... that no useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time,” Cohen said in a statement.
Both sides praised Cohen and said they felt there was some progress on minor issues at the start of the talks. But it was clear by the time talks broke down that there were bad feelings on both sides.
Though the sides have said they believe bargaining is the only route to a deal, the process could end up in the courts. Each brought an unfair labor practice charge against the other with the National Labor Relations Board, and the league also filed a federal lawsuit against the union attempting to block it from decertifying.
Union officials, so far, have been opposed to decertification, a route the NFL players initially chose during their lockout.
However, Hunter said Thursday that “all of our options are on the table. Everything.”