Barring an unforeseen resumption of talks, the next big event in the NBA lockout will come late this month when arbitrator John Feerick holds a hearing on whether players with guaranteed contracts should be paid during the lockout.
If the players were to win, the owners would be obligated to pay about $800 million in guaranteed salaries during the 1998-99 season. But first owners undoubtedly would ask that any award be delayed until the issue of Feerick's jurisdiction was settled in federal court.
Formal talks between the sides broke off Thursday afternoon when commissioner David Stern and six owners walked out of a bargaining session after hearing the players' new proposal.
Stern and deputy commissioner Russ Granik said the union's strategy appeared to be geared toward trying to defeat the owners in two matters of litigation before Feerick and the National Labor Relations Board.
The union filed the grievance with Feerick on June 30, just a few hours before the lockout commenced, claiming the owners committed an "anticipatory breach of contract" when they announced June 29 that they would not pay players with guaranteed contracts during the lockout.
Most players aren't scheduled to receive their first paychecks until Nov. 15, but a few dozen were supposed to be paid this summer.
Feerick held a hearing last week and determined that he has jurisdiction to hear the grievance. League lawyers did not attend that hearing after going to court earlier that day and failing to convince a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order halting it. The league is thought to be weary of Feerick, who was publicly castigated by Stern after his ruling last March in the Latrell Sprewell case.
Stern's lawyers were supposed to attend a scheduling session with Feerick on Thursday afternoon, but refused to show up after the talks broke down.
By Friday morning, they had relented.
The next date to watch in the NLRB case is Aug. 10, when regional director Daniel Silverman will determine whether the players' complaint has merit. The union filed an unfailabor practice charge with the NLRB, claiming the league unlawfully altered the terms of the expired agreement before an impasse in negotiations had been reached.
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