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PLAYERS WON'T GET MONEY; ARBITRATOR'S RULING MAY EXTEND LOCKOUT.

Byline: Howard Beck Daily News Staff Writer

NBA players lost their best potential bargaining chip in their labor standoff with the league Monday, when an arbitrator ruled they do not have to be paid during the NBA lockout.

The ruling by arbitrator John Feerick leaves the players without the leverage they hoped would force NBA owners to call off the lockout and offer a favorable contract.

A ruling in the players' favor would have compelled the league to pay $700 million in guaranteed contracts to 226 players - among them 10 Clippers and nine Lakers, including $15 million to Shaquille O'Neal.

``It certainly eliminates a stumbling block we've had,'' deputy commissioner Russ Granik said of the ruling, ``but it doesn't get us any closer to an agreement if the players won't come to the bargaining table. . . . It's not like we're gleeful here.''

The NBA's chief attorney called the ruling ``yet another defeat for the union's strategy of litigation instead of negotiation.''

To date, negotiating has taken a back seat to litigating. The two sides have met just three times since owners declared the lockout July 1, and progress has been minimal as the union awaited Feerick's decision.

Though a clear setback to the players' bargaining position, union executive director Billy Hunter downplayed the effects of the ruling.

``I kind of expected it,'' he said. ``I was hoping . . . Feerick would be inclined to see things our way, but we knew it would be a giant leap for him to take, especially since he is a labor lawyer by profession.''

But Hunter insisted the players' resolve would not waver - even without five-, six- and seven-figure paychecks which were due to begin arriving Nov. 15. The union has a strike fund of about $50 million for players who need it.

``If you thought the guys were zealous about staying committed to the cause,'' Hunter said, ``they're probably more rabid than they were before.''

The 111-day dispute has already wiped out training camps, exhibition games and the first two weeks of the 1998-99 season. More cancellations are likely to be announced next week. In the meantime, no additional negotiating sessions are planned.

Instead, players are meeting in Las Vegas on Thursday to discuss bargaining strategy, and the NBA's board of governors is due to meet next week.

The union is hoping for attendance of at least 150 to 200 players, though the numbers may be considerably lower. Some players feel detached from the process and say they are not being kept informed.

Washington Wizards forward Tracy Murray, a UCLA alumnus and Pasadena native, was pessimistic in the wake of Feerick's ruling.

``I'm thinking we're not going to have a season now,'' he said. ``That's just my gut instinct because everyone is going to want to play hardball. The owners don't have to negotiate with us now. They won the ruling. They'll sit back and wait for us to break down.

``I'm very disappointed. I think he (Feerick) just ruined basketball with that. Now you're going to have people seriously thinking about going overseas (to play).''

Laker Robert Horry said Feerick's ruling was payback to the owners for his previous ruling in favor of Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell. Sprewell choked Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo, and the league voided his contract. Feerick reinstated it.

``You rule in favor of Spree, he was out of work so they had to pay him,'' Horry said. ``Now they're doing a flip-flop. That's just how the system is.''

The players association is unlikely to appeal Feerick's ruling. Its last legal redress could be decertification of the union, which would allow players to sue the league in federal court. That strategy has support from a vocal faction of player agents and could be discussed in Las Vegas. The 19-member agents advisory committee will meet Wednesday night.

League officials expressed disappointment that the players would be talking only with each other, rather than the league, this week.

``Were missing games, we're losing our season,'' Granik said. ``I would hope that's sufficient pressure on both sides (to come to the table).''

Players and owners are battling over distribution of the league's $2 billion in annual income. The league tore up the existing agreement with the union because skyrocketing player salaries pushed the players' share to 57 percent this season - far in excess of the 48 percent agreed on in the collective bargaining agreement signed in 1995.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 20, 1998
Words:740
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