NBA Owners Offer Players A Take-It-Or-Leave It Deal

Wednesday is the deadline NBA Commissioner David Stern has given players to accept the deal on the table. It offers players up to 51 percent of their annual basketball-related income. If not accepted, Stern has threatened to go back to an early, lesser offer.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

NBA players and owners are in negotiations again today. That's not surprising. They've been talking a lot. But these talks have not yielded a deal yet, and the sides seem further apart than they were just a couple of weeks ago, even though the NBA commissioner has imposed a deadline of today for making a deal. NPR's Mike Pesca joins us to talk about all this.

Good morning, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hi.

MONTAGNE: Now, the owners have given the players a take-it-or-leave-it offer. What exactly is on the table?

PESCA: Yep. They've said take it or leave it. I suppose you have to take them at their word. And when we say the owners, this is David Stern. It's a negotiating ploy. And I'm not saying that it's not honest, but there's no real reason why there has to be this offer on the table now except to goose negotiations.

And the circumstance is that if players don't accept a 50/50 split of revenue - remember, they were getting 57 percent of all basketball-related income last year - they've agreed to go down to as low as 52 percent. But the owners want a 50/50 split. And David Stern has said, if you don't take that 50/50 split, our next offer is going to be a 47 percent split. I remember a story from "The Godfather" involving a bandleader where similar a negation was made.

Now, once you make such a bold declaration that our future offers are just going to get worse, from a negotiating standpoint it's very hard to walk that back. So I think the players have to take David Stern seriously, 'cause I don't see a circumstance where he somehow saves face and says, oh, I was only kidding about that 47 percent offer that we had proposed. So this is why these are very critical moments for this negotiation.

MONTAGNE: You know, I'm wondering, are you surprised that we're well into the month of November and there's still no pro basketball?

PESCA: Based on my talks with experts on the NBA and experts on negotiation, it's not that surprising. Because for every week of basketball you lose, yes, that's a week less salary that you're getting and a week less income that you're getting as an owner. However, both sides would look at it as this shows our resolve. This helps our ultimate negotiating position.

So you can make this case that if you lose a week or two or three weeks worth of salary but get a better deal in the long run, then it winds up being a smart move. However, after, say, two months of missed salary, there is no financial case that can be made that you did the right thing.

That's where passions come into it and that's where perhaps not making the exact right financial move comes into it. And you know, bad blood on both sides might force players to miss more than a couple of months of the season. So that's the players' consideration. The owners have a little bit different calculus.

MONTAGNE: And what would that be?

PESCA: Well, this is, I think, the key to this whole negotiation and why it's been able to go on so long. The owners don't divulge what their actual finances are. The players demand it, the owners deny. And I think that opacity has been key to the whole negotiation.

Because you - as much as we could say at this point the players are making a mistake or in two weeks the players will have made a financial mistake, we could never say that certainly about the owners. And because of that uncertainty, it's an excellent bargaining chip, if you will, to play. And the players don't really exactly know what their bargaining against. It strengthens the owners' hand.

MONTAGNE: Mike, thanks very much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Mike Pesca in New York.

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