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Hearings May Last 'Til Oct.

The NBA's guaranteed contracts arbitration hearing is going to take a lot longer than expected.

A nine-day adjournment was announced Tuesday, meaning a verdict might not come until October when training camps are due to open.

Tuesday was supposed to have been the final day of the two-day hearing. Instead, three additional days have been added, Sept. 3, 4 and 8.

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Arbitrator John Feerick will have 30 days to render his decision, which could eat up a huge chunk of the time the sides would have had to work out a new collective bargaining agreement and possibly start the season on time Nov. 4.

Training camps are scheduled to open Oct. 6.

The league said Sept. 3 was the next mutually agreeable date for the owners, players and arbitrator, although the union claimed commissioner David Stern's vacation plans and the start of the semester at Fordham University, where Feerick is a law school dean, necessitated the nine-day adjournment.

The hearing lasted for another 6½ hours Tuesday, for a total of 14 hours over two days. Union lawyer Ron Klempner was the only witness on Day 2, and

John Feerick
John Feerick has until October to decide on the guaranteed-contracts issue. (AP)
lawyers for each side also spent time arguing the admissibility of certain documents -- including a contract containing unique lockout language signed by Sacramento Kings center Olden Polynice in 1994.

Having a longer-than-expected hearing before Feerick is nothing new for Stern, deputy commissioner Russ Granik, union director Billy Hunter and their lawyers. When Feerick held the Latrell Sprewell hearing last February, it was supposed to last four days but went nine.

"Our position hasn't changed. We want to liigate and resolve this issue as soon as possible on behalf of our players. We're looking forward to resuming the hearing," Hunter said.

This hearing concerns the union's claim that owners should be liable to pay some $800 million worth of salaries due to 220 players who have guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season.

Lawyers for the league contend employees never get paid during lockouts.

The union says NBA owners should have protected themselves, as baseball owners do, with contract language making specific mention that players would not be paid during a lockout.

"In baseball, that was a component of the owners' strategy. They began inserting lockout language into guaranteed contracts in 1988 and 1989 in anticipation of a work stoppage in 1990," said Eugene Orza, general counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Major-league owners eventually imposed a lockout in the spring of 1990, but that dispute was settled and all 162 games were played, meaning no player lost any salary.

In the only other baseball lockout, in 1976, there were no guaranteed contracts to fight over, Orza said.

When hockey players were locked out in 1994, they did not seek to be paid. Nor did NBA players who were locked out in the summer of 1995.

© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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