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NBA Lockout Begins, Upcoming Season In Jeopardy

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NEW YORK (AP) – The memories of a thrilling NBA season might have to last for a while.

There’s no telling when basketball will be back.

The NBA locked out its players early Friday when its collective bargaining agreement expired, becoming the second major pro sport shut down by labor strife.

The players and owners remained far apart on just about every major issue, from salaries to the salary cap, revenues to revenue sharing.

“We had a great year in terms of the appreciation of our fans for our game. It just wasn’t a profitable one for the owners, and it wasn’t one that many of the smaller market teams particularly enjoyed or felt included in,” Commissioner David Stern said. “The goal here has been to make the league profitable and to have a league where all 30 teams can compete.”

It is believed to be only the second time that two leagues have been shut down simultaneously by labor problems.

In 1994, both the NHL and MLB were idle from October through the end of the year. The NHL locked out its players from October 1994 until mid-January 1995 and reduced the 1994-95 season from 84 games to 48. MLB endured a 232-day strike from August 12, 1994 until April 2, 1995, which led to the cancellation of the entire 1994 postseason and World Series.

The NBA’s long-expected lockout puts the 2011-12 season in jeopardy and all league business on hold — starting with the free agency period that would have opened Friday.

The NBA’s summer league in Las Vegas already has been canceled, and teams were prohibited from having any contact with their players.

The lockout comes exactly one year after one of the NBA’s most anticipated days in recent years, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the celebrated class of 2010 became free agents.

That free agency bonanza — highlight by the James, Wade, Chris Bosh trio in Miami — got the league started on a season where ticket and merchandise sales, ratings and buzz were all up. That success contradicted the owners’ argument that the system was broken beyond repair, but it also demonstrated why they wanted changes, with Stern saying owners feel pressured to spend as much as possible to prove their commitment to winning to fans.

LeBron’s move to Miami and Dirk Nowitzki’s title in Dallas couldn’t hide a simple fact: Owners insisted they were losing money, perhaps $300 million this season, and weren’t interested in subsidizing a system they felt guaranteed they’d keep losing more.

The last lockout reduced the 1998-99 season to just a 50-game schedule, the only time the NBA missed games for a work stoppage.

“I think we’re either going to not miss any games or we’re going to miss the whole season,” said Cleveland Cavaliers veteran forward Antawn Jamison, a rookie during the last NBA lockout.

But union chief Billy Hunter Hunter said it’s too early to be concerned about that.

“Obviously, the clock is now running with regard to whether or not there will or will be a loss of games,” Hunter said. “I’m hoping that over the next month or so that there will be sort of a softening on their side and maybe we have to soften our position as well.”

Hunter said he hopes the two sides will meet again in the next two weeks, after the union has looked at some additional documents it requested.

The players’ association seems unlikely, at least for now, to follow the NFLPA’s model by decertifying and taking the battle into the court system, instead choosing to continue negotiations. Hunter said last week he felt owners believe the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, which is debating the legality of the NFL’s lockout, will uphold employers’ rights to impose lockouts.

Despite a three-hour meeting Thursday and a final proposal from the players — which NBA leaders said would have raised average player salaries to $7 million in the sixth year of the deal — the sides could not close the enormous gulf between their positions.

“The problem is that there’s such a gap in terms of the numbers, where they are and where we are, and we just can’t find any way to bridge that gap,” union chief Billy Hunter said.

Owners want to reduce the players’ guarantee of 57 percent of basketball revenue and weren’t moved by the players’ offer to drop it to 54.3 percent — though players said that would have cut their salaries by $500 million over five years.

They sparred over the league’s characterization of its “flex” salary cap proposal — players considered it a hard cap, which they oppose — and any chance of a last-minute deal was quickly lost Thursday when league officials said the union’s move was in the wrong direction financially.

“I don’t think we’re closer; in fact it worries me that we’re not closer. We have a huge philosophical divide,” Stern said.

The NBA appeared headed this route from the start of negotiations.

Owners took a hard-line stance from the start, with their initial proposal in 2010 calling for a hard salary cap system, reducing contract lengths and eliminating contract guarantees, as well as reducing player salary costs by about $750 million annually. Though the proposal was withdrawn after a contentious meeting with players at the 2010 All-Star weekend, the league never moved from its wish list until recently, and Hunter said he believes negotiations never recovered from that rocky beginning.

The union had previously filed an unfair labor charge against the league with the National Labor Relations Board for unfair bargaining practices, complaining the NBA’s goal was to avoid meaningful negotiation until a lockout was in place.

“We’re going to stand up for what we have to do, no matter how long it’s going to take,” Thunder star Kevin Durant told The Associated Press. “No matter how long the lockout’s going to take, we’re going to stand up. We’re not going to give in.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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