Washington Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis told local business leaders Wednesday that he expects the NBA soon will have a hard salary cap similar to the NHL's model.
NBA commissioner David Stern said that's not necessarily true — and warned Leonsis could be punished for discussing private league business. The NBA later announced it had fined Leonsis $100,000 for "unauthorized public comments regarding the league's collective bargaining negotiations."
"We're negotiating and that was one of our negotiating points," Stern told The Associated Press before the fine was announced, "but collective bargaining is a negotiating process, and that was not something that Ted was authorized to say and he will be dealt with for that lapse in judgment."
Leonsis, who also owns the Washington Capitals, spoke to a group of Northern Virginia business leaders before the Wizards' daily training camp session. He told them that the more fans a team has, the more they spend on the team, the more the team has a chance to acquire and keep good players.
"In a salary-cap era — and soon a hard salary cap in the NBA like it's in the NHL — if everyone can pay the same amount to the same amount of players, its the small nuanced differences that matter," he said.
Asked after the speech to clarify his remarks, Leonsis pulled back from the comment, saying he was not authorized to speak about the ongoing NBA labor negotiations, but said he felt the NHL's system "is a good one."
"It's working," he said. "The teams are very, very competitive. There is no way that big markets teams can outspend small market teams. So when the season starts everyone thinks their team can compete for the Stanley Cup."
NBA teams currently can exceed the salary cap if they are willing to pay a luxury tax penalty. The league's proposal to the union for a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires next summer included elements of a hard cap, and the players rejected it during last season's All-Star break.
"There's a hard cap in the NFL, there's a hard cap in the NHL, and that was something that was part of our initial proposal," Stern said. "But we're open to a deal and it depends what the deal is."
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in New York and Freelance writer Ben Standig contributed to this report.