Originally created 10/24/98

NBA players union leaves galvanized



LAS VEGAS -- There were 240 NBA players at the largest gathering in their union's history. Next week, the players promise an even larger showing in New York, where collective bargaining talks will resume.

After a militant meeting at which conciliatory players like John Stockton were shouted down, many players left town Friday with the realization that their careers and paychecks probably won't be resuming soon.

NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik and union director Billy Hunter spoke on the telephone and agreed to meet Wednesday when the league's Board of Governors will be in New York for a two-day meeting that begins Tuesday.

Hunter said the union would try to get all its members -- about 400 players -- to show up. The 240 who came to Las Vegas voted unanimously to never accept a hard salary cap, Hunter said.

"Every member of the union has a right to be present," Hunter said. "It doesn't mean they'll be involved in negotiations. But it's important for them to be there and hear David Stern say he wants a hard (salary) cap."

There have been no negotiations since Oct. 13.

When the sides meet Wednesday -- a faceoff that could include more than 500 people -- the lockout will be in its 120th day.

The owners, demanding cost certainty, want an absolute ceiling on player salaries in the next collective bargaining agreement. They had the right to seek a new labor agreement if the percentage of revenues devoted to salaries exceeded 51.8 percent, and it reached 57 percent in the 1997-98 season.

In their most recent proposal, owners asked that the percentage be reduced to 52 percent in the 2000-01 season, 50 percent in 2001-02 and 48 percent in 2002-03.

The union has offered two methods to tighten the salary cap if the percentage rises to 63 percent, as well as a "tax" on the salaries of the highest-paid players.

According to several sources who attended Thursday's player meeting, Stockton and teammate Jeff Hornacek were shouted down when they tried to move the discussion from militant speeches to a dialogue on what percentage of revenues the players could live with.

"Everybody could speak, the mike was open," Charles Barkley said.

Among the most vocal players were Karl Malone and David Robinson. Everyone paid the most attention when Michael Jordan spoke, sources said.

"I was not surprised to see Michael here," Barkley said. "He's the most dominant guy in the league, and that shows how unified we are."

Shaquille O'Neal, Scottie Pippen and Kevin Garnett were among the other high-profile players. Grant Hill, Allen Iverson and Penny Hardaway were among the notable absentees.

"One of the reasons they wanted all of the stars here is to let them know we're in this," Barkley said. "They (the owners) want it to be about the haves and have-nots. It's not.

"Rest assured, and I'm one of the haves, if I never work another day in my life, I'm going to be fine. But it's not our intention to leave the young guys or the middle of the road guys out in the cold. If that's the owners' intention, they are going to be seriously mistaken."

The lockout, which began July 1, has cost the players about $100 million in lost salaries.

Owners are sustaining similar losses, and it will be interesting to see if a hard-line stance (David Checketts of the New York Knicks' ownership group recently said, "We must keep them out as long as it takes") emerges from the Board of Governors meeting. Each of the 29 teams will be represented by one to three people.

Also Friday, agent Stephen Woods withdrew his complaint before the National Labor Relations Board accusing the union's leadership of mismanaging its duties. Woods, who represents Kevin Willis and Willie Burton, said he was escorted out of Thursday's player meeting by two security guards.