While the players' union and owners meet during mediation for the second straight day, the NBAPA is still stinging from their massive arbitration loss 13 years ago. Billy Hunter seemed so confident too that the owners would have to fork over salary. Oops. I still don't know how Hunter has kept his job this long. Billy has a terrible problem with reality. Hunter reminds me of Rocky at the start of Rocky V, he tries to fight his way through everything only to get pummeled so senseless for such a long period of time that his brain gets damaged and is the butt of all jokes.
The arbitration in '98 was filed on June 28th, and there had been only 3 negotiating meetings between the two sides up through October 19th. That's not even an average of a sit-down per month, which is pitiful. Clearly, a lot of weight was being placed on the arbitration ruling. At least currently there's some sort of activity to relieve the situation.
If NBA owners were looking to crack the players union, they may have been given the hammer to do it on Monday.
Arbitrator John Feerick ruled against the players, deciding that teams do not have to pay millions of dollars in guaranteed contract salaries during this lockout. The ruling in New York severely weakened the bargaining position of the union, which may begin to splinter soon.
With the security of guaranteed contracts now removed, players around the league will be forced to feel the financial pinch of the labor dispute and may be more apt to give in to the owners' demands.
Players from across the league will meet Thursday in Las Vegas to discuss the ruling, which affected 226 players with contracts for the upcoming season.
Although the majority of the players were not scheduled to receive their first paycheck until Nov. 15, some had special provisions in their contracts. The Los Angeles Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal, for example, was scheduled to receive his entire $15 million salary for the season on Oct. 1.
The NBA already has canceled the first two weeks of the season - eliminating the players' first paychecks - after negotiations to reach a new collective bargaining agreement stalled. The two sides remain far apart on the major economic issues.
``This is the result we expected [from the arbitrator),'' said NBA Commissioner David Stern. ``Unfortunately, it doesn't get us any closer to a deal with the players. They don't seem to realize they can't get this money back. It's gone, gone forever.''
For Orlando, the ruling directly affected Horace Grant, Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson, Johnny Taylor and Bo Outlaw, the only players the Magic have under contract for this season. Grant and Anderson did not return phone messages left at their homes to discuss Monday's ruling.
Hardaway was in Houston working out informally with other players. He told reporters there that the ruling increased the importance of Thursday's meeting.
``I don't know how it's going to affect us until we go to Las Vegas,'' Hardaway said. ``I think [the season) is more in jeopardy now because the players are upset they didn't win. We didn't put a lot of trust in winning the ruling.''
Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, scoffed at the suggestion that the ruling meant the owners would now have the upper hand in negotiations.
Hunter said he and union President Patrick Ewing had spoken to 20 players in the two hours after the ruling and that their resolve remained strong.
"If you thought the guys were zealous about staying committed to the cause, they're probably more rabid than they were before,'' Hunter said. ``The players will not accept a bad deal under any circumstances. If we have to fight, we will do that. This doesn't change things.''
The union filed the grievance with the arbitrator June 28, just two days before the lockout began. It claimed that the absence of lockout language in the standard player contract meant that owners should be held liable for paying guaranteed salaries. In the standard player contract, other circumstances in which salaries can be withheld are specifically mentioned.
The owners had argued that the right to exert pressure on employees by withholding pay during a lockout was a fundamental tenet of labor law. The arbitrator - the same one who reinstated the contract of Latrell Sprewell after he assaulted his coach at Golden State - ruled for the owners this time.
The uncertainty leading up to Feerick's ruling had become a factor in the stalled negotiations this summer. The two sides have met only three times, the last time a week ago.
There is no new meeting scheduled. The players are meeting Thursday in Las Vegas, while the owners have a regularly scheduled meeting in New York today.
Stern said the rest of November's games could be canceled by the end of next week.
As a way to help the owners control the spiraling salaries, the players last week proposed a tax on only the highest salaries. The NBA responded Friday with a counterproposal incorporating the tax, but at a much lower threshold and with much higher rates. Hunter responded by calling it a ``step backward.''