NBA, Refs Take Battle Public ... Loudly
Two days after the league and the ref union split from the negotiating table without a deal for the 2009-10 season in place, each side fired off flaming missives accusing the other party of refusing to play fair.
The union struck the first blow, issuing a release torching the league for putting the pinch on referees while it signs major marketing contracts and gives its executives raises. (The release specifically mentions three league execs charged with overseeing refs: Ron Johnson, Joe Borgia and former NBA ref Bernie Fryer.)
In July, the NBA signed a multi-year marketing deal with Taco Bell, which replaces McDonald's as the league fast-food partner. The league has also undergone at least one round of layoffs in the past year, and commissioner David Stern has warned teams that league revenue may fall as much as 5% next season.
The NBA's lead negotiator, executive VP/general counsel Rick Buchanan, fired back with allegations the refs backed off a previous agreement to pare back retirement benefits in the new contract. The NBA says the union hasn't been willing to bargain.
"After we offered additional economic movement in order to progress toward a deal, the [union] refused to make any additional concessions," Buchanan said in a written statement. "At this point, and after several months of negotiations, all the union has offered to us is minimal concessions that are neither consistent with economic reality nor with the information it is currently distributing to the media."
Both sides also released some details on what exactly the hang-ups on a new contract have been. The union says it agreed to keep salary flat this season, but doesn't like the league's proposal to cut travel and per diem stipends. As quoted above, the league argues that the only concessions (a 15% cut in travel and a 7% cut in per diem, along with the flat salary) the refs have made are minor.
As someone who has observed the league for a while, I would never recommend jabbing Stern with a sharp object as a path toward getting what you want. Even the stars of the game can't pull that off. (See: the 1998 player lock-out.) And the referees know this. But it doesn't seem like they will be backing down, not after this round of cannonfire.