NEW YORK - Two weeks of the NBA season are gone and more are in jeopardy because of what Commissioner David Stern calls "the gulf that separates us" in labor negotiations.
Sticking to his deadline, Stern wiped out the first two weeks of the season - exactly 100 games - after more than seven hours of negotiations failed to produce a new labor deal and preserve the Nov. 1 season openers.
The cancellations mark the NBA's first work stoppage since the 1998-99 season was reduced to 50 games.
Clashing more over the salary cap structure than economics - but still far apart on both - Stern said both sides are "very far apart on virtually all issues. ... We just have a gulf that separates us.
"With every day that goes by, I think we need to look at further reductions in what's left of the season," he added.
Stern said last week that he would cancel the first two weeks of the season Monday without a new collective bargaining agreement to end the lockout. The two sides expect to remain in contact, but no additional formal talks have been scheduled.
"I started out by saying I'm sorry to report, and I'm sad to report that we've canceled the first two weeks," Stern said. "We certainly hoped it would never come to this. I think that both sides worked hard to get to a better solution. We think that we made very fair proposals. I'm sure the players think the same thing. But the gap is so significant that we just can't bridge it at this time."
Union president Derek Fisher agreed, emphasizing that missing any games puts the season in jeopardy. He also stressed this was a lockout, not a strike, and that it was the owners' decision not to be playing basketball.
"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."
The cancellation includes all games scheduled to be played through Nov. 14, and affected arenas have been authorized to release dates for those dates.
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.
Though disappointing to both sides and especially to fans, the result isn't a complete surprise. The union had warned players for years to save their money, knowing a work stoppage seemed likely, and executive director Billy Hunter repeated that players won't cave once they start missing pay checks next month.
"I think it goes back to a comment that David made to me several years ago when he said, 'Look, this is what my owners have to have.' And I said, 'The only way you're going to get that is if you're prepared to lock us out for a year or two, and (this) indicated to me that they're willing to do it," Hunter said. "So my belief, my contention is that everything he's done has kind of demonstrated that he's following that script."
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; Hunter estimated players' losses at $350 million for each month they were locked out.
Now ushers, security personnel, parking lot attendants, concession workers, restaurant employees and others all stand to have their hours cut or join the country's 14 million unemployed. A few teams also have either trimmed their staffs or instituted sharp pay cuts - some did that as the lockout began - and more layoffs could be forthcoming.
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 a season when revenues and TV ratings soared.
"I think it would be foolish for them to kill the season, and we're coming off the best season in the history of the NBA and I'm not so sure in this kind of economy that if there is a protracted lockout whether the league will recover," he said. "It took us a while to recover from the '98 lockout, and I think it will take us even longer to recover this time around."
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