NEW YORK – Before a stunning confrontation between Dwyane Wade(notes) and NBA commissioner David Stern in Friday's labor meeting, Wade, LeBron James(notes) and Chris Paul(notes) told their Players Association peers that they’re willing to sit out the season rather than make further concessions to the owners, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Wade, James and Paul were at the forefront of a strong players presence at a Park Avenue hotel for Friday’s contentious bargaining session. In a private union meeting prior to the bargaining session with owners, James kept reiterating to the group of elite players that they shouldn't give back a greater share of the league's basketball-related income (BRI) than what they'd already conceded in previous negotiations.
"We’re all together on 53 [percent], right?" James said. "All together on 53 right?”
“LeBron, Wade and Paul want to fight this so hard, they don’t seem scared about missing the season,” one source in the negotiating room told Yahoo! Sports.
James, Wade and Paul believe the owners are bluffing in threatening to ultimately cancel the season to get the changes they want in the collective bargaining agreement, a source in the meeting said. In the meeting with union peers, the three stars declared their willingness to miss games rather than drop down from the 53 percent of BRI the union has proposed to the NBA.
Despite the bold talk out of the sport’s biggest stars, the union privately has expressed a willingness to move further toward ownership this weekend with an understanding that Stern wants desperately to cut a deal with the players and avoid a prolonged work stoppage.
If nothing else, the owners did see the star players’ resolve on Friday. Once the players entered the room with the owners, Wade reacted harshly to what he perceived as Stern’s condescending way of lecturing him on the issue.
In the exchange, Wade referred to Stern as “David” twice in the exchange, emphasizing the commissioner’s first name. The players had a 57-41 split on BRI in the previous collective bargaining agreement, but the owners want the players' share to drop 46 percent in the new deal. When the owners refused to move off that 46-percent figure on Friday, several players had to be talked out of storming out of the meeting.
The fact that the league’s star players had gone to the meeting with the season hanging in the balance resonated with their peers in the league. When told of Wade’s back-and-forth with Stern, one Eastern Conference role player simply told Yahoo! Sports, “It’s about time.”
Without the framework of a new labor agreement in place within the next week, the NBA will likely start to cancel regular season games for early November. The two sides are meeting again on Saturday and likely Sunday. Several players were expected to return for Saturday morning’s meeting.
Paul Pierce(notes) of the Boston Celtics pushed the owners on their insistence that small-market teams couldn’t compete under the current system. Pierce raised the successes of the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder in making his case, one source said. Pierce conceded to owners that he was playing under the final significant contract of his career, but believed he owed to the players that will come after him not to submit to the league’s demands.
Once again, Phoenix Suns owners Robert Sarver was the most vocal proponent of the owner’s case, and he befuddled players by insisting that his wife had asked him to bring back the middle level exception in a designer bag. He’s been a strong advocate for a hard salary cap, and a source said that Sarver told the players in the room that he hadn’t been able to get the return on buying the Suns that he had hoped.
“Derek did a really good job of pulling everything back in order when it was needed,” one source said. “He was tremendous in there, really earned the respect of guys.”
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