NBA Union Discusses CBA Purchase

Tuesday, July 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Maybe the plan for the NBA players' union to buy the Continental Basketball Association is not a good deal after all.

The proposed purchase of the league, owned by new Indiana Pacers coach Isiah Thomas, was met with skepticism by the union membership Monday — lessening the prospects of a sale.

The purchase cost was questioned by NBA players, as was the league's economic viability and the philosophical question of whether a pro sports union should even be in the business of running a league.

``The players did their homework. They asked very pertinent questions,'' union director Billy Hunter said after a four-hour session on the first full day of the union's annual meeting.

A letter of agreement on exploring a sale of the CBA has already been signed by Thomas and the union. Thomas bought the league for $10 million last year but now must sell it.

NBA bylaws forbid coaches from owning another league, and Thomas has been told to relinquish the CBA before training camps open in early October.

Hunter said Black Entertainment Television founder Robert W. Johnson could be a potential buyer if the sale to the union does not go through. A majority of the 29 player representatives would have to approve the purchase, and Hunter has not said whether he will recommend proceeding with the deal.

``I'll have a better feel for what my recommendation will be after I get some answers to the questions that came up today,'' Hunter said.

If the matter does not come up for a vote before these meetings end Thursday, a vote would likely be held by conference call in the next two weeks.

Players spent about 75 minutes discussing the CBA deal, with the rest of the time spent going over financial matters. The union said players received 62 percent of basketball-related income in the 1999-00 season, a number expected to rise to 64 percent next season.

Under those projections and the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, players will have to give back 10 percent of their salaries — a so-called escrow tax — to the owners during the 2001-02 season.

Also on the agenda at these meetings is the election of six vice presidents and a secretary-treasurer. The current secretary-treasurer, Jim McIlvaine of the New Jersey Nets, was among those questioning the proposed purchase of the CBA.

``We're mostly looking at financial stuff, the guys are trying to look at it and analyze it,'' McIlvaine said. ``Going in, (Hunter) hadn't yet gotten a good gauge of how guys were feeling about it.''

Hunter would not reveal what kind of a purchase price was being considered, nor would he say whether he thought the CBA was worth the $10 million that Thomas paid for it just 10 months ago.

Hunter said the union might be interested in owning the CBA because of the career opportunities it would provide to both current players and former players who are looking to break into the coaching and general manager fields.

The CBA, however, has historically been a money-losing venture. The league will have competition, too, in the 2001-02 season when the NBA starts its own developmental league.

The NBA players' union, with limited financial resources, could be overburdened by the cost of buying and running the CBA.

``Unions invest in real estate, buy stocks,'' Hunter said. ``Why shouldn't they move beyond being players, move toward being owners and providing opportunities? Why should they limit themselves to being the labor instead of being the owner?''

Hunter played down the reasoning that the union might want to buy the CBA to have the infrastructure in place to start a rival league should the NBA impose a lockout after the 2003-04 or 2004-05 season.

Hunter also said it was no big deal to be doing business with Thomas, who was one of Hunter's biggest critics during the NBA lockout of 1998-99.

Hunter said he and Thomas started speaking to one another six months ago, and that Thomas came to him with the idea of selling the CBA to the union.

``I've never had any discussion with Isiah about (the proposed price for the sale of the CBA),'' Hunter said. ``We don't know yet what we're going to be doing.''