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Stern, NBA players union reach 11th-hour agreement to end lockout
Posted: Wednesday January 06, 1999 10:46 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- The NBA and the players' union reached an agreement today to end the 6-month-old lockout and save what's left of the season.
After a secret all-night bargaining session between commissioner David Stern and union head Billy Hunter, the deal was struck sometime around 6 a.m. -- just 29 hours before the league's Board of Governors was set to vote on canceling the remainder of the season.
The owners' and players' negotiating committees recommended approving the six-year deal, which gives the NBA an option for a seventh year.
The players approved it 179-5 in a ratification vote at the union's law office this afternoon, a union spokesman said. The league's Board of Governors will vote Thursday.
A season of about 50 games would begin the first week of February, with training camps not starting before Jan. 17.
"Oh, I'm so relieved it's unbelievable," Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl said. "It's like I let a balloon out of my stomach. The knots are already loosening up in my neck. I get to do what I love to do."
The union agreed to accept 55 percent of revenues in the fourth, fifth and sixth years of the agreement, sources told the AP. Players would get 57 percent if the league exercises its option for the seventh year. In the first three years, there is no limit on the percentage of revenues players can receive.
The settlement also means Michael Jordan must now decide whether to retire.
"Michael is going to analyze the deal, see what Chicago wants to do and then make an informed decision," agent David Falk said. "I'm not certain what his time frame is."
Under terms of the new agreement, a grandfather clause allows any player to sign for 105 percent of his previous salary. That means Jordan, who made about $33 million last year, could get about $34.7 million from the Bulls.
No other team can offer him anything close to that amount.
Among the other compromises:
No professional sports union had ever agreed to a maximum salary before, but the NBA had been pushing for one throughout the lockout. The union initially refused, then suggested a luxury tax be charged to any owner who signed a player for more than $15 million. The league kept holding out, and eventually the players relented.
Once the deal is finalized and the lockout is lifted, it will unleash a three- to four-week frenzy of activity with teams scrambling to fill rosters, make trades and sign some of the 200 free agents on the market while also holding abbreviated training camps.
"We'll probably have eight months of NBA basketball squeezed into four months, with trades and signings," Karl said.
"Obviously, it will be very busy," said agent Mark Bartelstein. "We've got a lot of free agents, so we've got to find them homes and teams. Get other guys into camps. Get up and rolling. I'm sure I'll probably talk to a lot of teams today."
The league and the union had been fighting over how to divide an estimated $2 billion in annual revenue.
"I don't think anyone won. Both sides lost on it," Indiana Pacers guard Fred Hoiberg said. "I think it will take some time to get the game back to where it was. Hopefully, we can get back to work soon and put a good product on the court."
The league's Board of Governors had scheduled a meeting for 11 a.m. Thursday, and Stern and deputy commissioner Russ Granik had said they would recommend canceling the rest of the season if an agreement wasn't reached.
NBA players began arriving in New York on Tuesday for a scheduled vote on whether to support the position of their negotiating committee, which had recommended that players reject the owners' final offer. At least 200 players had been expected to show up.
NBA players have the highest average salary in professional sports, about $2.6 million annually, and the median salary is about $1.3 million. NFL players average about $900,000, and major league baseball pays an average of $1.45 million.
The league already had an offer on the table allowing the union to reopen the agreement if any other sport's average salary surpasses that of NBA players.
The lockout, in effect since July 1, caused the NBA to miss games because of a labor dispute for the first time in its history. The first three months of the season had been scrapped and players had lost about $500 million in salaries.
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