NBA Cancels Training Camp, Preseason Games

Michele Norris and sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talk about the NBA lockout. The league announced Friday it has canceled training camp and 43 preseason games.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Finally this hour, sports - or a lack thereof. Football fans spent the spring and summer wondering whether there would be an NFL season this year. Well, now, the fans of basketball will be the ones worrying. The NBA and its players are at an impasse on a new labor contract. And today, the dispute had its first consequences. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us, as he does most Fridays, to explain all of this. Hello, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Michele.

NORRIS: Now, the NBA made a big announcement today. Could you please fill us in on the news?

FATSIS: Yeah. The league said it had postponed indefinitely the start of training camps for its 30 teams. Those were supposed to get under way on October 3rd. And with no practice, you can't have preseason games. So the NBA canceled the first week of games - 43 in all - between October 9th and 15th. While neither of these moves is, obviously, a good sign, they're not fatal either. The regular season is not scheduled to begin until November the 1st. Time is dwindling, but the two sides do still have enough to avoid the loss of games that count if they can reach an agreement.

NORRIS: So if the clock is running down, what are the key issues, and are the two sides making any progress here?

FATSIS: You know, you wouldn't think they were making progress if you saw the faces and the pronouncements of the principals after a big negotiating session yesterday. But they are actually moving slowly toward an agreement. And the key issue is, of course, the money. How will they divide about $4 billion in revenue? The players, under the latest talks, would receive somewhere north of 50 percent of league-wide revenue. That would be way down from the 57 percent they got in the previous labor deal, which the owners claim resulted in league-wide losses of $300 million last year and growing disparity among the teams. Now, the league also initially insisted on a hard salary cap - a real limit on how much each team can spend on players - but there seems to be some flexibility there. So both sides are moving a little bit.

NORRIS: Well, they're moving. But what could potentially hold things up?

FATSIS: Player agents, mostly. There's some definite dissatisfaction among some agents and some players. They feel that the union is making massive concessions to ownership here. First, you've got a significant reduction in total spending, then you've got a likely reduction in the length of player contracts and, to top it all off, a desire by smaller market owners for a way to keep their stars from leaving town - all of which could restrict the earning power of the biggest stars in the NBA. And the risk there is that the players will mobilize against the deal, maybe going so far as to vote to decertify the union - which is what happened in the NFL talks - and then sue the owners on antitrust grounds. That would lead to court chaos.

NORRIS: So in the meantime, the players suddenly have all this time on their hands. What are they're going to be doing?

FATSIS: Well, I hope they've been not spending a lot of money, to prepare for a possible shutdown. But they have been playing a lot. On the court, they've managed to keep up their profiles with various charity games in small gyms and playgrounds that have thrilled the hundred or thousand spectators who have come to them, and they've yielded some really great YouTube clips. There is one of these games, for instance, scheduled for this Sunday. It's called the Battle for I-95. It's being held at the Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania, the venerated gym.

On the one side, you've got Team Melo representing Baltimore, starring Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, LeBron James of the Miami Heat, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets. On the other side, you've got Team Philly with a slightly less famous roster. But now, you've got some rumors that they're going to be adding former NBA star Allen Iverson. Other than these games, though, players are trying to figure out what to do for the fall and the winter should there not be a season.

NORRIS: So Stefan, if anyone is listening who lives up and down that I-95 corridor, is that game sold out? Sounds like it could be really fun.

FATSIS: You know, I don't know whether it is. But if I lived within an hour of Philadelphia, I'd be trying to get into the Palestra.

NORRIS: So Stefan, back to the negotiations. If there is no season, what could the players do?

FATSIS: Well, more than 50 NBA players, including some pretty big names, have already signed contracts to play in Europe and elsewhere, and dozens more are interested in doing that. Just today, it was reported that Kobe Bryant, of the Los Angeles Lakers, has been offered $6.7 million to play one season for Virtus Bologna in Italy. Like other European deals, that contract would allow Bryant to return to the NBA if the season did resume. But a few players, including a couple of big names - Kenyon Martin of the Denver Nuggets, for one - they've signed with teams in China. Those contracts can't be broken to allow them to come back. So the NBA is going to lose some players, for sure.

NORRIS: Thank you, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: Have a good weekend. Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can hear more of him on Slate magazine's sports podcast "Hang Up and Listen."

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