NBA Returns To Bargaining Table


Nobody walked out of the latest NBA collective bargaining talks, but nothing much was accomplished.

On Day 100 of the lockout, the opposing sides met for more than four hours Thursday in what was described as more of a question-and-answer meeting than a bargaining session.

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They will meet again next Tuesday, which NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik acknowledged will be the "drop dead" date for saving an 82-game regular season.

"There was a minimum of posturing, although I can't say there was any progress," commissioner David Stern said. "There's still an essential area that keeps us apart -- the fact that we want a fair, defined percentage of revenues."

No owners attended the meeting, which was held at a midtown Manhattan hotel.

The only players present were Patrick Ewing and Herb Williams of the New York Knicks and Dikembe Mutombo of the Atlanta Hawks, which was a change from the last formal bargaining session Aug. 6 when more than a dozen players attended and the owners stormed out upon hearing the players' latest offer.

Patrick Ewing
Players union president Patrick Ewing, signing a basketball for a fan, was present when the players and owners resumed negotiating. (AP)

The players also walked out of a bargaining session in late June when they said they wouldn't listen to any offer that contained a "hard" salary cap -- their term for the league's insistence on putting an absolute ceiling on player salaries.

"Well, nobody walked out. So in that (respect) it was a lot better. But we're still in the same place," said Ewing, president of the players union. "We're hoping we can make some progress Tuesday and get this thing going because we want to play."

The bulof the meeting consisted of players and their attorneys asking questions about the owners' most recent proposal, which was made two weeks ago and included 19 pages of the league's position on all issues, major and minor, that could come up during negotiations.

"We're going to bring players in (to New York) over the weekend to discuss what the league is proposing, and who knows what may evolve from that," union director Billy Hunter said. "But it is our contention that there's still a long way to go."

In 51 seasons encompassing 35,001 games, the NBA has never lost a game because of a labor impasse. But it's almost a foregone conclusion that this is the year it will happen.

The entire exhibition season has already been canceled, and since it will take at least three weeks to sign almost 200 free agents, make trades and hold abbreviated training camps, it will be almost impossible for the regular season to start on time Nov. 3.

"It's looking less and less likely every day, although we're trying to hold on to every last day we can," Granik said of the possibility of canceling games. "But it really will take some major, major breakthrough -- and that doesn't seem likely to happen."

Both sides continue to await a decision from arbitrator John Feerick on the union's grievance contending that more than 200 players with guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season should be paid during a lockout.

Feerick's ruling is due by Oct. 19, and it's release could have a significant impact on the pace of negotiations. If the players win and the owners are unable to get a judge to delay the award, the union believes it will be more likely to come to a fair agreement.

To date, the union has offered the owners two different olive branches: To slow the growth of the salary cap (which was $26.9 million last season) if the percentage of revenues paid toward salaries rises above 63 percent; or to reduce the maximum annual raise in any contract from 20 percent to 10 percent.

Last season, owners paid 57 percent of basketball-related income toward salaries. They had the right to terminate the old six-year deal if that number rose above 51.8 percent, and they have proposed a four-year scaling back of that number to 48 percent.

If the players come with an official counterproposal Tuesday, they would be expected to give a little more ground on their two concession formulas. Still, it's highly unlikely that such a move will be enough to placate owners,who have said they need to have cost certainty in any new labor agreement.

"On the core issue of our need to set a fixed percentage, there hasn't been anything that would tell us the players have changed their view," Granik said. "Other than the fact that we've said we'll have another meeting, there's nothing to put comfort or hope in."

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