Replacement refs to start season

Updated: September 30, 2009, 3:01 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

The NBA told its teams in a memo Tuesday that it was proceeding forward with plans to use replacement officials in the upcoming season after referees shot down the latest offer from the league.

Locked out NBA referees voted 43-14 to decline the league's proposal, and a changed vote by one member of the union's executive board played a major role in scuttling the deal, ESPN.com learned Tuesday.

The vote took place Sunday in Washington as the league's 57 referees met to review a new offer made by the league last Friday.

Sources told ESPN.com that executive board members Joey Crawford, Bob Delaney and Bill Spooner initially voted to accept the proposal, while officials Steve Javie and Bennett Salvatore gave it a thumbs-down.

But Spooner then switched his vote, the sources said, and the entire body of refs voted 43-14 to decline -- a sequence of events that prompted lead negotiator Lamell McMorris to announce Monday that he was withdrawing from the talks.

Negotiations for the union are now in the hands of McMorris' associate, Brian Lam, and as of 8 p.m. ET Tuesday there had been no further discussions between the league and the union.

ESPN.com also learned details of the concessions made by the NBA in its most recent proposal, made at a secret negotiating session held in Philadelphia last Friday that included deputy commissioner Adam Silver representing the NBA.

The league agreed to cut the number of game assignments given to D-League and WNBA referees from 75 to 50 (it had previously asked for 100), and it made changes to its severance proposal that would have allowed six current referees to retire over the next two seasons with severance checks of $575,000 rather than the $350,000 previously proposed.

Also, referees with fewer than 10 years of service who chose to retire during the proposed two-year labor agreement would be eligible for severance payments from $50,000 to $100,000. The NBA's earlier offers on severance payments excluded that group.

"On Friday of last week, we reached an agreement in principal on the terms of a new two-year collective bargaining agreement with the negotiators for the National Basketball Referees Association," the league told teams in a memo that was obtained by ESPN.com and other news organizations.

"On Sunday night, the membership of the NBRA voted to reject that agreement. As a result, we have no expectation of concluding a timely labor contract with the NBRA, and are proceeding with replacement referees."

The memo continued:

"The agreement in principal reached with the NBRA's negotiators would have resulted in overall savings in the NBA's referee program costs next year of approximately 3.5 percent, plus additional savings from agreed-upon attrition. Modest increases in referee salaries (by 2 percent over two years) would have been offset by decreases in health and welfare benefits, air travel and per diem policies, and playoff compensation. In addition, structural changes would have been made to referee retirement benefits, including converting the existing defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution plan.

"This is not the first time that commitments made by the NBRA's negotiators were not met. Earlier in the negotiations, NBRA representatives reneged on previously agreed-upon concessions in the areas of pension, severance, and training opportunities for D-League officials," the NBA memo stated.

The contract between the league and its officials expired Sept. 1. The NBA held referees' training camp with replacements last weekend, and three of those officials are now expected to be on the court when preseason play begins Thursday with Denver's game at Utah.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

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