NEW YORK -- The All-Star game in Dallas will be significant for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is Texas' attempt to do it bigger than anyone else in the 100,000-seat Cowboys Stadium. But something else will happen behind the scenes, in a much smaller room, that will be even more critical.
Representatives from the NBA and the players' association plan to use All-Star weekend Feb. 12-14 as the first opportunity to meet face-to-face and actually exchange proposals on a new collective bargaining agreement, NBPA president Derek Fisher said Friday.
"All-Star will kind of be maybe the first real step in cracking this thing open and taking it beyond just exchanging information," Fisher said after the Lakers practiced at an East Side health club in preparation for Saturday's game at New Jersey. "I would say it would be more of an exchange of proposals. I don’t think any negotiations would begin until they see what we’re offering and we see what they’re offering."
The two sides previously met Aug. 5 in New York, where the owners officially notified the players that -- as expected -- they would not opt to extend the current agreement beyond the 2010-11 season. They've spent the past four months exchanging financial information so both sides can be on the same page once actual negotiations begin. Fisher, who met with NBPA executive director Billy Hunter Friday, said the league furnished its latest round of financials to the union about a week ago.
One person with knowledge of the situation said the league has been more forthcoming with financial data than ever before, which could be a sign of two things: 1) The data on revenues, attendance, and the like are more grim than in previous negotiations because they've been collected during a severe recession; 2) The owners, like the players, recognize the importance of avoiding a work stoppage so the NBA's growth in TV ratings and global popularity isn't stalled.
"We’re all kind of saying the same things at this point: Nobody wants a work stoppage or a lockout," Fisher said. "Let’s start working early to make sure we’re moving toward that. The conversations I’ve been a part of, that’s pretty much what it’s been. And All-Star weekend is a time where we really get the opportunity to kind of get into it, exchange proposals, exchange information, and really start to try to crack this thing open."
The NBA hasn't endured a work stoppage since the 1998 lockout, and the owners and players agreed to begin negotiations early on a new agreement that would begin with the 2011-12 season. Everything is on the table, from a new revenue sharing plan to help low-revenue teams, to the structure of the salary cap system, to the overall share of revenues that go to players and how teams hurt by lower attendance could be helped by other revenue streams. CBSSports.com reported last week that ticket revenues were down 7.4 percent league-wide through the first month of the regular season, yet the NBA has seen significant increases in national TV ratings and massive growth in its online and digital properties.