Finals Might Be The Last NBA Action For Some Time

The NBA finals delivered some great basketball this year, but it may be the last professional basketball we see for a while. The NBA and its players' union are miles apart when it comes to a new contract. As NPR's Tom Goldman reports, parts or all of next season may be in jeopardy due to an NFL-style lockout.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

The NBA season ended this week with a Texas-size celebration for the new champions.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

LYDEN: Chants of MVP greeted Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, as he and his teammates rode through the streets of Dallas on Thursday.

The excitement at that victory parade may soon disappear, though. The NBA is poised to follow the lead of the National Football League and shut down business, with a lockout of players. It could happen in less than two weeks, when the current NBA labor contract expires.

NPRs Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: At the Dallas parade, Bryan Griffin spoke for many, many NBA fans.

Mr. BRYAN GRIFFIN: I dont want to just have to watch baseball all year and hockey, cause its going to be terrible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIFFIN: Im extremely worried about the lockout.

GOLDMAN: A labor war and work stoppage may be unavoidable, considering how owners and players disagree on some pretty basic issues surrounding a new contract. The league is worried about its crummy financial situation. It says more than half its teams are losing money - more than $300 million a year.

Heres NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver at the recent finals, speaking on a sound system that seems to support the leagues claim of poverty.

Mr. ADAM SILVER (Deputy Commissioner, NBA): Costs have risen much faster than revenues over the course of this deal.

GOLDMAN: This deal - the labor contract thats been in place since 2005 needs an overhaul, says Silver and his boss, NBA Commissioner David Stern. The new contract - this is still the league talking - should be set up so the money teams have been losing can be reclaimed by cutting player salaries. Eight hundred million dollars a year is the target mentioned publicly; privately, the league says it can be less.

How to achieve those cuts? There are several proposals but only one, a hard cap on player salaries - meaning, this is how much you can spend and you can't go over - only the hard cap prompts the following sound effect:

(Soundbite of screeching tires)

GOLDMAN: Screeching tires, as in hold on there. This is the union talking now. Actually, this is:

Mr. LARRY KATZ (Lawyer, Steptoe and Johnson): The association is very much against any kind of a hard cap.

GOLDMAN: Larry Katz is one of the lawyers representing the players' association in contract talks. The NBA has enjoyed a soft salary cap, meaning teams can exceed it in certain circumstances, without penalty. Not only does the union not want the soft cap messed with, the players - not surprisingly - have a beef with the league wanting to balance its books by cutting player payroll. Larry Katz:

Mr. KATZ: The players believe that when the owners of particular teams are losing money, that's due to bad management or aggressive bidding for player contracts. To give back large sums of money to make up for those kind of management decisions is a wrong decision.

GOLDMAN: NBA writer Henry Abbott - he writes the True Hoop blog for ESPN.com -has hacked his way through the he-said/he-said of NBA labor for the better part of a year. There's concern a hard salary cap will change the way the league looks by forcing teams to jettison players. Abbott doesn't think that'll happen.

Mr. HENRY ABBOTT (Blogger, ESPN.com): The players just are so adamant on that point. So, I think we'll end up with a world where teams can have some wiggle room to keep their best players together.

GOLDMAN: Also, while owners claim revenues have been outpaced by costs, Abbott says league revenues that pay for player salaries have gone up.

Mr. ABBOTT: Which is an amazing endorsement of the league and its players, and the popularity of the product.

GOLDMAN: Everybody has a lot to gain, says Abbott, from the NBA being up and running next fall. There may be saber-rattling now, he says, maybe even a lockout, but no games lost. Abbott feels good about his prediction. After picking Miami to win the title, he's due.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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