Transcript of NBA TV’s David Aldridge And NBA Commissioner David Stern’s Lockout Conversation

We all know the story and also know what’s been reported, so it’s good these interviews are going down because at the very least the public can begin to distinguish what is real and what is “right”. I would hope someone out there (put me in coach!) will get NBAPA head Billy Hunter on the mic soon as both sides enter the mediation phase in the upcoming week. David Aldridge is that dude, and as you’ll see (or have seen) in the video link, the right questions were asked with everything professional in mind. We’ll all know in due time if a season will become a this year reality, but if not, as Amar’e Stoudemire suggested to ESPN, get on my NPA plan (also besides the above Aldridge link, the NPA gets a mention here in an article by David Leonard) so fans of basketball get to see the game as it ever was…

NBA TV’s David Aldridge: “The player’s union, have already committed to four percent at a minimum cut which is about a minimum of $116 million per year. Does that not get you at least part of the way to where you need to go?”

Commissioner David Stern: “I think it’s a gesture. On $4 billion of revenue with salaries projected of growing from the current 5.5 percent to something approaching over 7 percent in year seven. I don’t think I am going to apologize for the owners wanting to make a profit. That’s what capitalism is. People say, “Well they bought a sports team they should expect to lose money,” no, they shouldn’t because when you spend the amounts of money that these franchises now cost and the losses pile up because the players salaries have gone up from a billion that we were arguing about in 1999, to $2 billion plus, I am not going to say, “Oh we shouldn’t make a profit.” The goal here is to make a profit.”

Aldridge: “You talk about the player costs but you also earlier talked many months ago about non-player costs that have also gone up. Has the league made any strides to get those costs down? I’m assuming you are talking about jet fuel and those sorts of things.”

Stern: “Absolutely. We’ve probably reduced our work force at the league office in the last year by attrition and lay offs of over 200 people. The teams probably have done another 200 total. We’ve been meeting with each of the teams going over their costs and finding ways to push them down as well. So we are moving across the board in some things and once we started the practice of flying the players on charter flights, the teams are going to either be the victims or beneficiaries of ups and downs in the price of fuel.”

Aldridge: “But your point of contention is that there isn’t enough savings in non-player costs…”

Stern: “No, there are savings to be had, but if one understands the situation, the players say, “We want you to revenue share,” and we are losing $300 million or as the players now utter, “Well you shouldn’t count this and you shouldn’t count that so they are only losing $200 million,” that’s an argument I would like to get into with them in their accounts of hours. You can’t revenue share your way out of $200 million in losses, so the idea is to cut where you can and be as profitable as you can so the big market teams and the big grossing teams will share with the low grossing teams.”

Aldridge: “Why did you except the offer of mediation?”

Stern: “Because we have always been in favor of mediation and we think that the federal mediator could be helpful in breaking the log jam. We welcomed it and the call came. We have always welcomed it.”

Aldridge: “What do you think he (the mediator) might be able to do or find that already hasn’t been discussed?”

Stern: “I don’t know. We will see. Maybe a different perspective will be helpful.”

Aldridge: “He has had some success with Major League Soccer. He has also been credited with taking part in the 1995 baseball strike on the union side at the time, but he also was there with the football lockout and wasn’t able to get them to agree.”

Stern: “Those experiences make him more knowledgeable. That’s all. I think that given where the parties are, an extra set of eyes might be constructive because we’ve clearly indicated a desire to reach a deal on more than one occasion.”

Aldridge: “At some point, this is going to be over and you are going to reach a deal.”

Stern: “It’s one of those things. That’s what makes it all so sad. It’s not a car where you can say, “If you don’t like my car you can go buy another car.” We don’t have any other place to go but with this union. Given the amount of people put out of work by this and given how absolutely vaporizing the four percent of our players compensation is every week, by the end of two weeks it’s going to be $170 million lost. That money will be gone and lost forever and then the next two weeks will come or the rest of the season and the same thing will happen. Considering what we are arguing about its very sad for both our fans, particularly for the employees at the venues and, by the way, particularly for our players as well.”

Aldridge: “The fact that you are going to have a deal, what does the league do when this is over? What do you say or do for fans to let them know this was not a good thing that they had to go through?”

Stern: “We think our fans will understand that when we do get back together, the players and teams will stand shoulder to shoulder and continue to play great basketball, which we were doing so successfully last season during the playoffs and particularly in the Finals.”

Aldridge: “One thing you said about the revenue sharing aspect is that we can’t finalize the revenue sharing until we know what the costs are going to be. You sort of have a range; you know it’s not going to be above 53 percent or below 47 percent. It’s going to be somewhere in the middle.”

Stern: “We are finalizing a proposal to send out to the teams to get the owners to be ready to meet on this at the planning committee next Wednesday and at the Board of Governors next Wednesday night and Thursday.”

Aldridge: “So do you think you could have a vote on revenue sharing by then?”

Stern: “I don’t think we will have a final vote until we have a CBA deal. It would be nice to have a vote on two of them, but we are making some enormous progress and there’s a real willingness of the high grossing teams to pitch in and put in some dollars and there’s a real desire on the low grossing teams to have the money to make them competitive. And so, we will be ok from a revenue sharing perspective and when we get to a percentage we agree to, we will agree to it. Then the system issue is there and we have a lot of markets who say they want to be able to tell their fans that if they are well managed they have a chance to compete. And if the Lakers can have $110 million in salaries because they can afford to be tax payers and Sacramento only has $45 million in salaries, that is not a permissible spread to us.”

Aldridge: “But it’s always been that way – Bigger teams with the higher salaries like Boston, NY and LA have always had the advantage.”

Stern: “The reality is we like the NFL system, we like the NHL system, but our players don’t. And since the money is guaranteed, which is the point that everyone always misses, they (players/union) say the cap is designed to push down the money the players would earn. Wrong. The cap is a way that’s used to distribute the money the way they do it in the NFL. Like what’s done in Green Bay, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and all those small market teams that win Super Bowls.”

Aldridge: “You know as well as I do that the smaller markets can compete in the NFL because the TV deals are so big that everybody gets a huge amount of money that allows them to compete.”

Stern: “No, not so. The reason they can compete is because they have a hard cap so that no team has the ability to bust through the cap and pay more because they share it all, sharing more of it together with a hard cap makes it more competitive.”

Aldridge: “You said that very thing that’s true; that Green Bay spends money.”

Stern: “They spend money because they have money and they have a hard cap.”

Aldridge: “But you are saying the hard cap guarantees money.”

Stern: “Both. We are going to have revenue sharing and we hope to make a new TV deal and we hope to do player sharing. Because that’s what caps do. They move players around and distribute players a little more equally.”

Aldridge: “Why is it that for four months everybody said the BRI is going to be the thing we can’t figure out and then on Monday both sides said no, we will get a deal on BRI, it’s the system that is killing us.”

Stern: “At the end of the day, for reasons I don’t quite understand, the union leadership is of the belief that teams that are tax payers and with us having greed that it won’t be an NFL cap, it won’t be an NHL cap and that those teams that are taxpayers should continue to be able to add to their rosters as long as they can afford to pay the tax. That’s what it came down to 11 p.m. on Monday night. We were frankly as incredulous as you are.”

Aldridge: “Did you enter the weekend thinking you were going to have a deal by the end of it?”

Stern: “I was very optimistic that we were going to have a deal. I was stunned when at the end of our long day on Monday night the offer from the union on the tax, let’s say for a $10 million contract over the cap it went down from $12.5 million to $11 million (on the old expired deal it was $10 million). It was dollar for dollar. And under their latest proposal it went down from their earlier proposal that was $11 million. It was clear they just weren’t ready to make a deal and we didn’t know what else to do.”

Aldridge: “So you are saying that what Billy Hunter said in the interview with (WFAN’s) Mike Francesa was that there was a tax on a certain amount on the first $5 million and so on…”

Stern: “Yes. Billy said that in the bargaining session to propose a punitive tax. And we did. But more importantly, we proposed a system where a team could only be a taxpayer for a certain number of years and then it had to get out of the tax. That was fair. Then the union as they did with the NFL cap, the NHL cap and the tax, said no. So we got together with our small committee and said lets try to meet with them one more time and we came back with a proposal that said if you don’t get out of the tax it will be very, very costly. We would like the team to get out of the tax because we would like our teams to compete. It shouldn’t be that if you are in NY, Brooklyn, LA you can have the ability to have whatever you want in terms of players. If that’s so, what are we going to tell people in other cities? And what are those teams going to tell their fans?”

Aldridge: “How much of this is a result of the movement we saw last year whether it was LeBron and Bosh and Wade ending up in Miami or Carmelo ending up in NY, the stars going from smaller markets to larger markets?”

Stern: “I don’t think it’s related. I think fans in those markets think the system is stacked against us. And it’s not a good thing because what we are selling here is competition and at the end of the day, we think our teams just want to be competitive and there are natural advantages to certain cities. Some people like lakes, and you can go to cities with lakes, some people like the ocean and you can go to South Beach. But there is an increasing sense that “glamorous” cities have an edge and I guess it’s always been that way. I accept that, in fact back in the day we didn’t used to have trades and I can remember Junior Bridgemen, who was the president of the union, said at some point we should be allowed to stay in a city because our kids are in school, etc. I remember Abe Pollin saying, “I agree with you.” And I agree with him, too. So we try to deal with a variety of different issues but you have to have a willing partner and for reasons I don’t understand, given the economics of this deal and our attempt to meet the union on the cap, the flex cap, the tax, etc., why we haven’t been able to make a deal. And the rhetoric comes back that we are ready to fight all season, to destroy a year’s worth of salary and forgo the economic benefits of the proposed deal. Hearing that makes me scratch my head and very sad as well.”

Aldridge: “What’s the timeline as you start the mediation sessions? Are they going to be daily? Weekly?”

Stern: “I have owners meetings Wednesday and Thursday. Each is going to meet with the mediator on Monday and if there’s a breakthrough it’s going to come on Tuesday. And if not, I think that the season is really going to be potentially escape from us because we aren’t making any progress.”

Aldridge: “By next week?”

Stern: “How many times does it pay to keep meeting and have the same things thrown back at you. We are ready to sit down and make a deal. I don’t believe that the union is. But hopefully by Tuesday, aided by the mediator, they will be able to make a deal and certainly I will bring my owners ready to make a deal. Unlike Billy Hunter, you will never hear me say something is a “blood issue.” That would be an unfair labor practice charge, but we didn’t pursue it because refusing to negotiate on an issue is what’s called a failure to bargain. We assume it’s just rhetoric but we’ve met it. “We haven’t said anything is a “blood issue” and we’ve moved a lot and we aren’t giving any secrets away. If the union came in with a deal that made sense I would certainly urge my owners to accommodate them, but we haven’t seen that yet.”

Aldridge: “I just want to make sure I heard you correctly: If there is no break through next week, the season is in jeopardy.”

Stern: “I said potentially because if we know exactly what’s at risk and all we are going to do is meet and stare at each other, we are always ready to meet and stare. The union calls on Sunday morning and says can we meet at 6 p.m., we were there and ready to go. We then met Monday and went until 11 p.m. and at that point there was no reason to continue meeting. If this is the place where we are, and we are and not locked into any particular position but the losses continue to accrue to the owners, the offers cannot get better. Just know this is not an official statement it’s jut an observation, but just knowing the losses the league is suffering is going to change the economic situating of the league. I think the union is being intransigent at the current place. When the offers start getting worse to reflect the economic damage done to the teams then where is the deal?”

Stern: “I appreciate the media hanging in with us. I appreciate the opportunity to get out the facts. Some of the facts have been misinterpreted. Actually, the first time the 50 percent was injected into these negotiations was at a much earlier meeting and it was done so by the union as a “concept”. We weren’t able to move on that and so then we had both teams in, our committee, their committee and the players came to us. Derek Fisher and their chief negotiator Jeffrey Kessler, Adam Silver, Peter Holt and I stepped out and had what we call a side bar and both sides agreed that it was neither of their proposals but it was both of their proposals that we could meet the 57/43 percent by a 50/50. We went back in our room to sell it and I think I could have sold it, but I didn’t get the chance because the players came back and said we won’t do that. Yesterday, I actually heard Billy tell a radio commentator that the offer was only allegedly made and that he never heard it. I think I am giving you a little insight into the difficulty of these negotiations. Is it frustrating to me? Yes. Is it sad because of the vaporizing of player income, of fan experience, of arena workers and restaurants? Yes. It is awful and that’s why I am delighted that the mediator is in because he does represent the President’s view – he is a presidential appointee – and maybe with his moral suasion, we might be able to make a deal.”

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