The NBA canceled another two weeks' worth of games Wednesday, adding to the toll the lockout has taken on a league that was supposed to begin its regular season next week.
The cancellations came after a meeting of the league's Board of Governors. Commissioner David Stern and several owners then spent 90 minutes exchanging questions and answers with about 85 players.
The sides agreed to resume bargaining talks at 5 p.m. EST.
Two weeks' worth of games already had been scrapped, and now the season can't begin until Dec. 1 at the earliest.
But Stern did say the league and union would discuss "recapturing" games. That was a change of tone from two weeks ago, when the league announced the first set of cancellations and said the games would not be made up.
"They had told us about games being recaptured. We knew that," said Jeffrey Kessler, the lead outside counsel for the union. "You can add (games) on later, or put more into the schedule."
Until this labor dispute, the league had never lost a game to a work stoppage.
A total of 194 games have been lost with the latest cancellation of 95 games. Each team's 82-game schedule has now been reduced to about 68 games and the players have lost about $200 million in salaries.
| Indiana Pacer Antonio avis and players union director Billy Hunter walk to a meeting of the league's Board of Governors Wednesday. (AP) |
Stern said there was a "skeleton" of a framework for a deal, but as far "the guts of the deal, I would say we're no place yet. And we're willing to have this meeting in order to get someplace."
Stern said he did not want to set a deadline on when the season would have to be abandoned.
"One, we want to be ready to be imaginative," he said. "Two, we don't want to make threats; we want to make a deal."
Stern said there would be no further announcements on cancellation of games. He said that as each week goes by another week of the season is lost.
With that, he and the owners' negotiating committee walked out of their news conference, took an elevator three flights up and went into the conference room where the players had been meeting. As they entered the room, several players cast suspicious looks their way.
"The main point is having the skeleton. We think that is significant, since we had not agreed on a skeleton before," Kessler said. "Now we're talking essentially about whether the players will take a bad deal, which they won't. The issue is now about dollars."
Union director Billy Hunter had called upon the league's entire player population to come to New York for this round of talks. Hunter's plea was made last week in Las Vegas, and since then the sides have begun to talk of a compromise.
Among the players on hand were Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
"I have an obligation as a veteran player," Jordan said, "to see that the players of tomorrow have the same benefits and opportunities that I have. Dr. J and Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson and all those guys fought for this collective bargaining agreement and the Larry Bird exception and the freedom to have flexibility."
"I'm obligated to make sure the other players have the same opportunity," Jordan said.
The union wants to see if the league moves off its demand to reduce salary costs from 57 percent to 48 percent of revenues.
The league has been seeking such a scaleback since the sides began talking April 1, and Hunter said Tuesday it is the biggest obstacle.
"We're trying to salvage as much of the season as possible," Hunter said. "I'm optimistic we're going to get a deal. I can't say it's going to happen this week."
After meeting for about nine hours Monday, the sides spent another four hours together Tuesday discussing noneconomic issues such as personal conduct clauses, player discipline and substance abuse policy.
It was the first time since talks began that the sides had a detailed discussion of the many side issues that have been all but ignored in favor of the core economic themes.
"We talked about a lot of issues. I can't say we made a lot of progress," said Jeffrey Mishkin, the NBA's hief legal officer.
Stern and Granik did not take part in the noneconomic talks Tuesday, meeting instead with the owners' labor committee. The commissioner then led a delegation to meet with the players at Hunter's invitation.
The likely focus of the owners' discussion was whether any positive signals could be taken from the meetings Monday night, when for the first time they discussed an economic operating system that does not include a hard salary cap.
"I'm sure there's a segment of the owners ready to make a deal, and some of them are hawks that have taken a contrary position," Hunter said.
Owners have been pushing for a system in which the percentage of basketball-related income devoted to player salaries drops gradually year-by-year from its current 57 percent to 48 percent in the 2002-03 season.
The owners have also asked for other economic concessions, including establishing a maximum salary, reducing performance bonuses, changing revenue calculations, reducing the maximum length of contract from seven years to five or six, and eliminating direct licensing payments to the union.
In their last written proposal Sept. 24, the league included 19 pages of its positions on all sorts of issues, many of which remain unresolved.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved