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Movement In NBA Labor Talks


There finally was progress in the NBA labor talks Friday, with players and owners making several compromises during the longest negotiation session of the 143-day lockout

Still, the sides said they would not meet again during the weekend, and no firm date was set for resuming discussions next week.

"I would say there has been some movement from both sides," commissioner David Stern said. "I think it's fair to say that there's an evident spirit of an attempt to reach (agreement) on both sides."

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Stern tempered his enthusiasm by pointing out that the sides remain far apart on many issues, but his comments were both surprisingly optimistic and clearly indicative there was real progress in trying to settle the most damaging labor dispute in league history.

"We reached a position where neither side was prepared to make any further movement, so we though it was a good time to stop," union director Billy Hunter said. "When you've been in a hotel for 12 or 14 hours, the air gets stale and your head gets cloudy."

Sources involved in the talks, speaking on the condition they not be identified, told The Associated Press each side had moved a couple of points off its desired salary percentages. The owners had been demanding 50 percent, while the players wanted 60.

The owners also agreed to accept, with conditions, the idea of a 10 percent limit on the amount of an "escrow tax" that could be withheld from players' paychecks in years four, five and six of a seven-year deal, sources said.

Owners continued to ask for a four-year rookie scale with a right of first refusal in the fifth year and a 5 percent limit, down from the old 20 percent, on yearly salary increases for players without Larry Bird exception rights.

"For

Patrick Ewing
Union president Patrick Ewing was overheard saying, "Let's get back in there. I want to play." (AP)
the irst time in a while, I feel real optimistic that a deal can be made," Miami's Alonzo Morning said.

By the time they broke for dinner around 9 p.m. EST, the sides had spent almost nine hours speaking face to face, making it longer than their 8½-hour session on Oct. 28, when Michael Jordan tried to help broker a deal.

"There has been no acrimony," Stern said. "The only raised voices have been in the passion of the deal, and we're trying to see whether we can't make some progress. Everybody seems to be determined to sit here and sit here and sit here."

At lunchtime, union president Patrick Ewing stood outside the conference room and was heard saying to a league official: "Let's get back in there. I want to play."

One participant said statements made by Washington owner Abe Pollin and union director Billy Hunter helped move the process along, and one player said Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo was responsible, too.

After players made the first move -- a change to their escrow tax plan -- owners made a counterproposal that included the change. The players then came back with yet another offer.

"Everybody is determined to talking and pushing to narrow the gap or even come up with some new ideas, and no one's against new ideas," Stern said."But there's some serious fundamental differences in the way the two sides view the issues and approach them."

Asked again when he thought a deal might be struck, Stern seemed to commit a slip that was at odds with all the recent talks that the entire season might be canceled.

"You know there will always be a deal," Stern said before catching himself.

"I'm optimistic that there will be a deal, but the question is after how much more damage," he said.

So far, the first month and a half of the season has been canceled, and an agreement would need to be reached in the next week or so in order to start before Christmas.

Such a scenario seemed highly unlikely when the sides arrived spouting pessimism in the morning, but as the clock neared midnight it no longer seemed as farfetched.

Friday's bargaining session, the first since Oct. 28 to include the full negotiating teams, evolved from a telephone call Stern placed to Dikembe Mutombo of the Atlanta Hawks earlier this week. That led to a two-hour meeting Tuesday that included Hunter, Ewing, Stern and Granik.

While both sides agreed almost nothing was accomplished Tuesday, they decided to see if bringing both committees to New York might jump-start the process.

It did.

When the sides made some progress three weeks ago on the framework for a new deal, they talked about implementing many of the union's concessions in the first two or three years of the new agreement in order to halt salary growth from outpacing revenue growth.

If the percentage of revenues devoted to salaries failed to drop below an agreed-upon level - and what that level would be is one of the biggest points of contention -- most players would contribute up to 10 percent of their salaries into an escrow fund, with the money going back to the owners if the designated percentage was exceeded.

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