Stern cancels start of NBA season

NEW YORK — Sticking to his deadline, NBA commissioner David Stern canceled the first two weeks of the season after negotiations between players and owners failed to produce a new labor deal, and Stern warned that more games were in jeopardy of being cut.

“With every day that goes by, I think we need to look at further reductions in what’s left of the season,” Stern said.

The cancellations mark the NBA’s first work stoppage since the 1998-99 season was reduced to 50 games.

“The gap is so significant that we just can’t bridge it at this time,” Stern said. “We certainly hoped it would never come to this.”

Union president Derek Fisher agreed, emphasizing that missing any games puts the season in jeopardy.

“This is not where we choose to be,” he said. “We’re not at a place where a fair deal can be reached with the NBA.”

Stern said last week he would cancel the first two weeks of the season Monday without a new collective bargaining agreement. Top negotiators for both sides met for more than seven hours Monday, the longest session to date, after bargaining for more than five hours Sunday. The two sides expect to remain in contact, but no additional formal talks have been scheduled.

Stern said both sides are “very far apart on virtually all issues. … We just have a gulf that separates us.”

Opening night was scheduled for Nov. 1, and the cancellation includes all games scheduled to be played through Nov. 14 — exactly 100 games.

Based on last year’s average announced attendance leaguewide (just over 17,300 per game) and the average ticket cost last season, those now-canceled 100 games represent nearly $83 million in lost ticket sales — before the first concession or souvenir is sold and before the first car pays to park.

Season-ticket holders, however, get refunds, plus interest, for all canceled games.

With another work stoppage, the NBA risks alienating a fan base that sent the league’s revenues and TV ratings soaring during the 2010-11 season. And the cost of cancellations would be staggering. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said the league would lose hundreds of millions of dollars, while union executive director Billy Hunter estimated players’ losses at $350 million for each month they were locked out.

Hunter said he didn’t think the full season was in jeopardy yet and stressed it would be a mistake for the NBA to risk it coming off such a successful season.

“It took us a while to recover from the ’98 lockout,” he said, “and I think it will take us even longer to recover this time around.”

For the second straight day, the sides focused on salary cap system issues instead of the division of revenue split.

Stern said the players still proposed they get 53 percent of revenues, whereas the league proposed they get 47 percent. The two sides had discussed a 50-50 split last week, but only in informal discussions.

Stern said he felt the league had made serious concessions on the system — withdrawing its demands for non-guaranteed contracts and what they considered a hard salary cap. Players, however, insisted the league’s idea of strengthening the luxury tax would have acted as a hard cap, scaring too many teams from spending above the cap level.

Players reacted quickly — and in some cases, strongly — on Twitter within minutes of the cancellations being announced.

Miami guard Dwyane Wade said the situation “just got real” after he learned the first two weeks are now gone, then lashed out at Stern’s comments in a second post by saying they hurt employees at arenas around the league, other businesses that thrive off NBA business and the league’s fans in general.

The success of last season, on the court, at the box office and in the headlines, convinced many that the sides would never reach this stalemate.

But small-market owners were hardened after watching stars such as LeBron James leave Cleveland for Miami and wanted changes that would allow them to hold onto their superstars and compete for titles with the big-spending teams from Los Angeles, Boston and Dallas, who have gobbled up the last four championships.

Though both 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.

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