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NBA players show unity against owners

By Monica Moorehead

The largest gathering ever of National Basketball Association players took place on Oct. 23 in Las Vegas. There, players showed unwavering support for their union and lambasted the NBA management. Some 240 players called for unity against the lockout imposed by the owners since July 1.

Just before the meeting, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the owners, saying they do not have to pay $800 million in contractual salaries to 226 players as long as the lockout is in process.

The main issue behind the lockout is the players' current and future salaries. The owners want to reduce each team's salary cap to no higher than 52 percent of revenues. The players want to keep it at 57 percent.

This struggle is about which side will get the lion's share of the billions of dollars in profits that NBA games bring in, especially in TV revenues. The players voted to stand by their union rather than decertify it in order to sue the NBA. They also stressed that they will not accept a hard salary cap, even if it means not playing this year.

The high salaries of the NBA players are a matter of public record. But it is a different story for the owners. What the corporate owners make is a well-kept secret.

There are many more players than owners - but the few owners, who invest millions of dollars into a team, receive the largest share of the profits.

David Falk, Michael Jordan's agent, told the press that no one should believe the owners when they cry poverty. Salaries of a number of coaches have increased "300 to 400 percent." He also questioned the $35 million salary of David Stern, the NBA commissioner. According to Falk, only 10 NBA players make more money than Stern.

Many of the most prominent players have a history of taking an anti-union stance but have changed their view in light of the lockout. Two in particular are Jordan and Karl Malone, the Utah Jazz forward.

Malone said at the news conference: "I believed everything management was telling me. I bought into that. But when you go and experience it yourself you say to yourself, what is wrong with this picture, when I'm the product. I'm being penalized for working out in the summertime. I'm penalized for wanting to be a better player."

Dallas Maverick guard Steve Nash remarked, "Players are tremendously unified right now and it's important for us to come here and show the amount of intelligence we have instead of falling apart like everyone is expecting us to do."

Houston Rockets forward Charles Barkley said: "The league wants it to be about the haves and the have nots. I'm one of the haves. If I never work another day in my life, I'm going to be fine. But it's not our intention to leave the young guys or the middle-of-the-road guys out in the cold."

Some players, like Kobe Bryant, a Los Angeles Laker, expressed their solidarity with those workers whose livelihoods depend on the NBA games, from security guards to the concession workers.

The players and their agents are discussing organizing their own exhibition games to raise money as well as taking a $25 million licensing fee from the league for players who are in financial straits.

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