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NBA In Turmoil As MLB Takes Care Of Business


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Guy Raz. For decades, baseball was the sport synonymous with labor turmoil. These days, it's a paragon of stability. Consider, just this week, the National Basketball Association's five month old lockout entered a new potentially disastrous phase of litigation. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball quietly wrapped up a new collective bargaining agreement.

For more on sports and labor, we're joined by our regular commentator, Stefan Fatsis. And, Stefan, first of all, update us on the latest going on with the NBA.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Well, the labor talks between the owners and the players collapsed after the players' union rejected an offer of a 50-50 revenue split that was described as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. The players then effectively dissolved their union and filed two lawsuits against the league on antitrust grounds.

Now, this isn't dissimilar from what happened in the National Football League over the summer. It's really less a desire to see this thing go the distance in the courts, which could take years, than it is about tactical maneuvering. And the NFL did manage to get over that, ended up having a season, obviously, so all hope is not lost for the NBA.

RAZ: Okay. Now, the NBA players were supposed to have received their first paychecks of the season this week. Presumably, nobody is going to get paid. Is that going to change the equation here?

FATSIS: You know, I don't think so. I mean, they are giving up what was a total of $170 million, an average of $220,000 per player for this first pay period, but there have been plenty of chances for the players to splinter or say really stupid things on Twitter, but they haven't.

The union, this week, added the renowned litigator, David Boies, to its team. Boies last represented the NFL on the management side, so his expertise is obviously for hire. Now, this is important because relations between NBA commissioner David Stern and the union leaders Billy Hunter and the player, Derek Fisher, seem to be just terrible right now. Boies could be a stable voice who dials down the rancor and improves communications and gets this thing back to negotiation.

RAZ: But time, of course, Stefan, is wasting. To me, it doesn't seem like the season can be saved. Can it?

FATSIS: Well, the league's already cancelled games through December 15th, so even a very short season of about 50 games would require some fast action. The immediate upshot of the collapse is that we're going to hear more play-by-play calls like this one.

SPORTS ANNOUNCER: (Foreign Language Spoken).

FATSIS: That's Deron Williams of the New Jersey Nets, a guy who's playing in Turkey. And now, more players are starting to think seriously about going overseas. The agent for the star, Kevin Durant, he's talking to a German team. Miami Heat star, Dwayne Wade, has authorized his agent to listen to offers. And Billy Hunter, the head of what used to be the players' union, has even suggested that the players start their own league.

RAZ: Wow. Okay. So basketball obviously is in turmoil. Football was in turmoil, but it sounds like baseball has pretty much taken care of business, and quietly.

FATSIS: Yeah. A new five year labor agreement is expected any day and this is going to mean that baseball will enjoy two continuous decades of labor peace for the first time since a players' union was formed in the 1960s.

In this new deal, most noticeable to fans, there's going to be a new playoff format with two more teams. Two non-division winners in each league are going to play in a one game playoff. I like that. The deal also will clear the way to realign the sport into two 15-team leagues.

The Houston Astros are going to move, after 50 years in the National League, over to the American League. That's going to improve some structural fairness with equal sized divisions, but it also means we're going to have continuous interleague play for the first time throughout the Major League Baseball season.

RAZ: Stefan, thanks.

FATSIS: Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: That's Stefan Fatsis. He joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can hear more of him on Slate magazine's sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.