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NBA cancels first two weeks of season

By Brian Mahoney

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 10 2011 7:56 p.m. MDT

NBA Commissioner David Stern, center, talks with reporters after leaving a meeting between NBA basketball players and owners, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011, in New York.

David Karp, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Sticking to his deadline, NBA Commissioner David Stern erased the first two weeks of the season after negotiations failed to produce a new labor deal and warned that more games were in jeopardy of being cut.

"With every day that goes by, I think we need to look at further reductions in what's left of the season," Stern said.

The cancellations mark the NBA's first work stoppage since the 1998-99 season was reduced to 50 games.

"The gap is so significant that we just can't bridge it at this time," Stern said. "We certainly hoped it would never come to this."

Union president Derek Fisher agreed, emphasizing that missing any games puts the season in jeopardy.

"This is not where we choose to be," he said. "We're not at a place where a fair deal can be reached with the NBA."

Stern said last week he would cancel the first two weeks of the season Monday without a new collective bargaining agreement. Top negotiators for both sides met for more than seven hours Monday, the longest session to date, after bargaining for more than five hours Sunday. The two sides expect to remain in contact, but no additional formal talks have been scheduled.

Stern said both sides are "very far apart on virtually all issues. ... We just have a gulf that separates us."

Opening night was scheduled for Nov. 1, and the cancellation includes all games scheduled to be played through Nov. 14 — exactly 100 games. Affected arenas have been authorized to release dates for those dates.

Based on last year's average announced attendance leaguewide (just over 17,300 per game) and the average ticket cost last season, those now-canceled 100 games represent nearly $83 million in lost ticket sales — before the first concession or souvenir is sold and before the first car pays to park.

With another work stoppage, the NBA risks alienating a fan base that sent the league's revenues and TV ratings soaring during the 2010-11 season. And the cost of cancellations would be staggering. Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would lose hundreds of millions of dollars, while union executive director Billy Hunter estimated players' losses at $350 million for each month they were locked out.

Now ushers, security personnel, parking lot attendants, concession workers, restaurant employees and others all stand to have their hours cut or join the country's 14 million unemployed. A few teams also have either trimmed their staffs or instituted sharp pay cuts — some did that as the lockout began — and more layoffs could be forthcoming.

Hunter said he didn't think the full season was in jeopardy yet and stressed it would be a mistake for the NBA to risk it coming off a season when revenues and TV ratings soared.

"I think it would be foolish for them to kill the season, and we're coming off the best season in the history of the NBA and I'm not so sure in this kind of economy that if there is a protracted lockout whether the league will recover," he said. "It took us a while to recover from the '98 lockout, and I think it will take us even longer to recover this time around."

For the second straight day the sides focused on salary cap system issues instead of the division of revenue split.

Stern said the players still proposed they get 53 percent of revenues, whereas the league proposed they get 47 percent. The two sides had discussed a 50-50 split last week but only in informal discussions.

Both sides stressed it was the system issues, not the revenue split, that turned out to be the larger obstacle Monday.

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