Basketball: American season in tatters as talks fail

THE National Basketball Association's perfect record of 35,001 games over 51 seasons, never once interrupted by a strike or lockout, came to an end on Tuesday night when the league cancelled the first two weeks of the 1998-1999 season because of a work stoppage. The action was taken when collective bargaining talks between owners and players broke off.

"My job is to put on games for the fans, not to cancel them. It's terribly disappointing," the commissioner, David Stern, said.

A total of 99 games between 3 and 16 November will not be played or made up, and most players will miss their first paychecks.

Their union submitted an 11th-hour proposal - a luxury tax on players re-signing when clubs break the salary cap for free agents - to address the owners' concerns over escalating salaries. But it was not enough to save the full 82-game season.

The NBA had been the only major American professional league not to have lost a game to a dispute. Baseball's disastrous strike of 1994-95 wiped out the World Series, ice hockey's National Hockey League suffered through a 10-week lockout that ended in January 1995, and an NFL strike in 1987 lasted about a month. Two previous NBA lock-outs, in 1995 and 1996, ended before any games were missed.

"We players feel we're taking steps to bridge the gap," the players' union president, Patrick Ewing, said. "Now the ball is in their court to take steps to get closer to us."

The union's proposal would require owners to pay a tax on certain huge contracts, such as the $126m (pounds 78m), six-year extension signed by Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves last year when he was just 20.

A source close to the talks said the tax would apply to any contract worth more than $18m, with a rate of 50 per cent for the amount over that threshold. Money collected from the luxury tax would be redistributed to less well-off teams, much like the system adopted by baseball.

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