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Players Discuss Labor Strategy


Michael Jordan's next basketball game could occur the first weekend of December in an exhibition that would be held in Las Vegas, players' union director Billy Hunter said Wednesday.

"Whether or not (Jordan) will play won't be known until the last moment. If he doesn't play, he'll coach. But he'll be physically present," Hunter said after the union's negotiating committee and several team player representatives met for about 5½ hours to discuss the lockout.

No new negotiations are scheduled, although Hunter said he would call commissioner David Stern on Wednesday night or Thursday to gauge whether the sides want to sit down at the negotiating table again.

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"He has indicated that he does have another proposal. When he puts it out there remains to be seen," Hunter said. "I think what he wants to do is sweat our players a little more and see whether there's any inclination on our part to want to submit."

There have been no discussions since talks broke off Friday, and the season cannot start until mid-December at the earliest.

If another three weeks go by without an agreement, the season probably won't start until 1999.

"Fans may be somewhat disheartened at this moment, but I don't think the fans are turned off to the point that we can't regain their support," Hunter said. "It's sort of crunch time. Sooner or later the (owners) will have to decide that it's time to get a deal."

In the meantime, agents David Falk, Arn Tellem and Eric Fleisher are trying to organize an exhibition game in Las Vegas for the first weekend of December.

Hunter

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Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan and other Dream Teamers might play an exhibition game in early December. (AP)
said the Showtime cable network has expressed interest in televising the game. A spokeswoman for Showtime had no comment.

Hunter said the game might be a matchup between two of the three Dream Teams that competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics and the 1994 World Championships.

But it would be impossible to put the original Dream Team back together since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are now part of management -- Johnson as a part-owner of the Lakers and Bird as the coach of the Indiana Pacers. Also, Christian Laettner ruptured his Achilles' tendon last summer and could not play, and Clyde Drexler will be busy coaching the University of Houston basketball team.

"Our players are interested in keeping themselves busy, and we think that one way to do it is have some sort of an exhibition competition," Hunter said. "The proceeds would go to the (union)."

During Wednesday's meeting, discussions focused mainly on where the sides stand and how to reach a compromise.

Owners, general managers and coaches have been contacting players in recent days to discuss the owners' proposal.

"Maybe (having the teams speak to the players) is a last ditch effort before they really sit down at the table and try to get a deal," Hunter said.

The sides have already discussed the framework for a deal in which a "luxury tax" would be imposed for two or three years on owners who sign players to lucrative contracts, after which an "escrow tax" could be withheld from players' paychecks to ensure that the percentage of revenues devoted to salaries drops to an agreed-upon level.

Owners want a maximum salary of about $8 million to $12 million. The luxury tax proposed by the players for contracts worth more than $15 million would be intended to have the same effect.

Under the union's proposal, if the luxury tax failed to slow salary growth, most players would have 10 percent of their salary withheld from their paychecks. That money would be returned to the owners if the targeted percentage was exceeded, but the owners are asking that the deduction not be limited to 10 percent.

The sides also are far apart on what percentage of revenues devoted to salaries would trigger the imposition of the escrow plan. The owners want the plan to go into effect if the percentage is not reduced from its current 57 percent to 50 percent. The players don't want the escrow system to go into effect unless the percentage exceeds 60 percent.

"Our position is we're constantly asked to do their work for them and limit their spending for them. And we've agreed to that on a very large basis," said Danny Schayes of the Orlando Magic. "But at some point they have to assume that responsibility for their own businesses. You caonly level the playing field so much."

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