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News » NBA, referees at impasse


NBA, referees at impasse


NBA, referees at impasse Rarely will so few be watched so closely by so many.

Barring a last-minute solution in the labor dispute between the NBA and its 57-member officiating staff, three replacement referees will work Wednesday's night's preseason opener between the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets at EnergySolutions Arena.

The referees' contract expired on Sept. 1 and, last week, NBA commissioner David Stern broke off negotiations with the officials' chief negotiator, Lemell McMorris.

The Jazz-Nuggets exhibition will be the first game impacted by the labor strife.

"We are in the process of putting together a roster of replacement referees," league spokesman Tim Frank told The Tribune.

"Our goal, as always, is to have the regular staff working the games. They are the best in the world and everybody knows that. But without a deal, this is the only option at our disposal right now."

The NBA has not used replacement referees since 1995.

This dispute began when the league, in the face of the recessed economy and an expected drop in revenue for the coming season, decided to chop $3.2 million from its officiating budget.

McMorris, who did not return phone calls from The Tribune this past week, claims the referees have agreed to $2.5 million in budget cuts --- a figure the NBA disputes.

"The lockout is based on the referees' refusal to concede to all of the NBA's demands for significant cutbacks to the referees' budget," McMorris said on the National Basketball Referees Association's Web site.

"The NBRA's most recent proposal ... includes cutting travel costs by 15 percent and per diem by seven percent. The referees also agreed to freeze their salaries for the 2009-10 season."

According to the NBA , it wants to trim the officiating budget without cutting salaries, even though the league claims entry-level officials make $150,000 a year, with veteran referees making as much as $550,000.

McMorris disputes those numbers, telling CBSSports.com the entry-level salary for an official is $91,000 and the only referees who can make $550,000 are those with 30 years of experience who work the playoffs through the NBA Finals.

Despite the disagreement, nobody believes the salary issue is insurmountable.

Stern stopped negotiating primarily because he felt McMorris agreed to some changes in the referees' retirement package and then changed his mind.

As it stands, referees who retire after the age of 55 are entitled to as much as $575,000 in severance.

The league wants to scale back that amount of money. It claims McMorris initially agreed to and then backed out of a plan that would allow referees who have currently been on the job for at least 10 years to receive a ceiling of $350,000.

Younger officials and those who come into the league in the future would get less upon their retirement.

The NBA also wants the officials to agree to the use of Development League referees. It wants them to work as many as 100 games a year, for experience and evaluation purposes.

McMorris balked, saying the current 57-member staff is willing to absorb the workload without asking for salary increases.

A final point of contention?

The league wants to turn the officials' current pension program into a regular 401K, where the employees contribute to their own program.

"We understand that everyone in the country is facing tough times," McMorris said. "We have attempted to negotiate in good faith and give substantial cuts to get the referees back to work."

McMorris points out the referees are willing to work under a two-year labor agreement instead of the usual five years to help the NBA "ride out the current [economic] downturn."

He remains available to negotiation.

"Our phone lines are open," McMorris said. "We're the ones who got kicked out of the meeting last week. We're not the ones who ended the call. It's not on us."

luhm@sltrib.com Players oppose replacement refs

NBA players don't want the league to use replacement referees.

Former Utah Jazz guard Derek Fisher, who now plays for the Lakers and is president of the NBA Players Association, made that clear in a statement issued last week.

"I, along with the NBPA Executive Committee, unanimously endorse the quickest possible resolution to the negotiations between the [officials] and the NBA ," Fisher said. "Our referees are the best in the world at what they do and they deserve to be treated fairly.

"Players throughout the league are concerned that the use of replacement referees could compromise the integrity of our games. Our fans deserve the best product that we can put on the court and that includes having the best referees. Anything less is unacceptable to our union and our members."


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: September 28, 2009

 

 
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