NBA players to receive sizable salary reduction amid COVID-19 fallout

NBA players will see 25 per cent of their paychecks taken out starting May 15, the first direct hit to their salaries because of the coronavirus pandemic.

25 per cent cutback begins May 15

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, seen above in January. The league, in synergy with the National Basketball Players Association, decided to reduce player salaries by 25 per cent during a board of governors meeting on Friday. (Frank Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

Commissioner Adam Silver said it remains impossible for the NBA to make any decisions about whether to resume this season and that it is unclear when that will change.

But in a clear sign that at least some of the 259 remaining regular-season games that were not played because of the coronavirus pandemic will not be rescheduled, the league announced Friday it will withhold 25 per cent of player pay starting with their May 15 checks.

Silver, speaking after the league's regularly scheduled April board of governors meeting — one that took place through video conferencing and not the usual in-person setting in New York — said all options remain on the table for trying to resume play and eventually crowning a champion.

"I think there is a sense that we can continue to take the leading role as we learn more in coming up with an appropriate regimen and protocol for returning to business," Silver said. "There's a recognition from (owners) that this is bigger than our business; certainly, bigger than sports."

The salary decision was made in concert with the National Basketball Players Association, the league saying it would "provide players with a more gradual salary reduction schedule" if games are officially cancelled or the rest of the season is totally lost.

Players will be paid in full on May 1. The cutback in salary has been expected for some time in response to the NBA's shutdown that started March 11, and has no end in sight.

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Silver said the league will weigh several factors as it continues to try to save the season, among them whether the infection rate of COVID-19 comes down nationally, the availability of large-scale testing and progress on the path toward a vaccine.

"All these team owners are in this business because they love the game," Silver said. "They love the competition, and I know from my conversations with players they feel the same way. But when you're dealing with human life, that trumps anything else we could possibly talk about. That's really where the conversation began and ended today."

'It's about the data, not the date'

Team owners and NBA officials heard from Disney chairman Bob Iger during the call to discuss his company's response to the pandemic, as well as from Dr. David Ho of Columbia University. Ho is an expert on viral epidemics and worked with the NBA when Magic Johnson was diagnosed with HIV in 1991.

Silver said Iger shared that he's been often asked about a return to normalcy.

"To steal a line from Bob, when he was asked by several people about particular timelines, he said from his standpoint 'it's about the data, and not the date,"' Silver said.

The NBA playoffs would have started Saturday. If none of the 259 outstanding regular season games are played, the league's players would lose about $800 million US in gross salary.

Taking 25 per cent out of checks on May 15 — and, presumably, checks on June 1 and June 15 should play not resume by then — would amount to players across the league missing $40 million in each pay period.

The reduction in pay is in anticipation of what the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players describes as a "Force Majeure Event" — the legal term for unforeseeable circumstances, such as an epidemic or pandemic. Per the CBA, players could lose 1.08 per cent of their annual salary for each game that is cancelled.

Silver said the shutdown means "revenues, in essence, have dropped to zero. That's having a huge financial impact on team business and arena business."

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