As I reported on Thursday, NBA players' union vice president Roger Mason Jr. told me that the owners and players are still far apart on a new collective bargaining agreement. "I'm hopeful," Mason Jr. said, "but right now the gap is pretty wide as far as the league and the latest proposal that they gave us, and what we're willing to do as players."
Talks resume in Miami this week, the site of Game 6 and a potential Game 7 on Tuesday night of the NBA Finals. Mason Jr. is part of a seven-member players' committee, headed up by NBPA executive director Billy Hunter, which also includes president and Lakers point guard Derek Fisher, Hornets point guard Chris Paul, Spurs power forward Matt Bonner, Bucks point guard Keyon Dooling, Wizards swingman Maurice Evans and Lakers center Theo Ratliff.
Mason Jr. shed some interesting light into the meetings.
"There are usually 10 to 14 NBA owners in the room and [league commissioner] David Stern, [deputy commissioner and chief operating officer] Adam Silver, [president of league operations] Joel Litvin -- the top five NBA officials. Just like the players have a board, the owners have a board of about 14 to 15 owners who represent the league's ownership. You sit around a big conference room table and we negotiate. I might grab the mic and speak on how a lot of the guys in the league feel about a certain issue, and they may speak out about how they feel about another issue. There's a dialogue going back and forth. There are lawyers from the NBA and lawyers from the PA that are there who have ideas that they throw out. The owners get to speak to us the players and vice versa."
During the process, Mason Jr. consults with his Knicks teammates, from Amare Stoudemire to the rookies, to get a pulse about how they feel about perspectives being discussed in the meetings. He says that he takes his role very seriously to make sure that the league is in good hands starting next season and after he retires.
"My fellow peers voted me in as vice president for a reason," Mason Jr. says, "so I want to make sure the legacy that we leave in the league is not only good in the short term for now, but in the long term for guys that paved the way for me to be able to make the salary that I've been able to make."
Mason Jr. has been monitoring the NFL lockout very closely, especially because his friend, Baltimore Ravens defensive back Domonique Foxworth, is on his league's players' board. Mason Jr. says the federal appeals court ruling to uphold the NFL lockout or not, a decision to come in the next week or so, will be a telling sign for what could happen with the NBA lockout. He's worried that if a lockout does occur, it could replicate the NFL situation and extend well into the offseason at the very least.
"[The ruling] will have a lot of implications for us," Mason Jr. says, "because if they're successful at blocking the lockout then I think that's going to give us much more leverage to negotiate a deal. The one thing that we do know is if we don't get a deal done by the deadline, it's going to make it even more difficult to get a deal done. We don't want to go through what the NFL's going through right now. Once a lockout is implemented, it's even more difficult to get a deal done from that point.
We can't afford to sit back and be passive with this situation at all. We understand what's at stake. Our fans and this game is too precious to fool around with. I think that the owners realize that and I know the players realize that too."
Mason Jr. reflects on the 1998-99 NBA lockout, which forced the season to be shortened to 50 games per team. He was a high school senior at the time, hooping for Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Md. While he didn't understand all of the intricacies that made the NBA run at the time, he remembers feeling very disappointed that a deal couldn't be worked out sooner. Not only does he feel the same way now being involved with the negotiations, but he's now fully aware of the league's business side -- and he doesn't want history to repeat itself.
"Sometimes there are circumstances where you just can't make decisions that are going to harm the future for our league," Mason Jr. says, "and overall I wouldn't feel good about leaving the league five, six, seven years from now and youngsters coming in with this type of agreement. I would feel horrible if I left the game that way myself."
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