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Impasse results in lockout of NBA officials

The league and the referees union have been unable to agree on contract negotiations, which increases the possibility replacement referees will be used during the preseason or the regular season.

September 19, 2009|Lisa Dillman

An impasse in contract negotiations between the NBA and the referees union on Friday resulted in a lockout of officials, increasing the possibility the league will use replacement referees during the exhibition season or even the regular season.

It would be the first time the league used replacements since early in the 1995-96 season.

"It is extremely disappointing that the NBRA has ignored the economic realities, rejected our offer, and left us with no choice but to begin using replacement referees," Rick Buchanan, the NBA's Executive Vice President and General Counsel, said in a statement.

League sources identified three key issues of dispute: the future of retirement bonuses, a proposal to mix D-League and WNBA officials on a limited basis into early season assignments for training purposes, and the conversion of pension benefits.

The league contends it had an agreement with the union on retirement bonuses that the union reneged on last week. Lamell McMorris, the referees' lead negotiator, declined to comment on that point in a telephone interview, saying he did not want to negotiate through the media.

Said Buchanan: "The proposals we have made to the NBRA are extraordinarily fair and reasonable, given the current economic circumstances. Since late 2008, the league and our teams have made far deeper cuts in non-referee head count and expenses than we are asking for here. The old collective bargaining agreement expired Sept. 1. The league noted that the previous CBA featured enhanced retirement bonuses of up to $575,000, on top of pension benefits that could exceed $2 million."

The retirement benefits, which the NBA has proposed to change, were in addition to compensation of almost $150,000 per year for entry level referees and more than $550,000 per year for most senior referees.

Referees were scheduled to begin training camp Sunday. The league announced training camp with replacement referees will start next week.

The Lakers play their first exhibition game on Oct. 7 at the Honda Center, and the Clippers are at Golden State on Oct. 4.

The last time replacement referees were used was largely viewed as a debacle. "I think they're horrible," forward Dennis Scott told the Orlando Sentinel in a 1995 interview. "I know they're trying their best, but they've never been officiating with talent on the court at one time and they're not used to it."

The league said there are key differences from those days. Two officials were used in those games -- the league now uses three -- and the officiating pool is much deeper and the educational program has been in place longer.

Another implication: a prolonged lockout could affect arenas.

"We've appealed to all of the major labor unions," McMorris said Friday.

In another interview with the Sports Business Journal, he said his group has had initial discussions with the Teamsters Union.

"We know who is not going to cross the picket lines; the folks who deliver liquor, the folks who deliver food," he told the publication.

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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