NBA deadline on hold as talks go on

By Mike Monroe

NEW YORK – Deadline Day became Dialogue Day for the NBA.

A league ultimatum that had threatened to seriously set back negotiations aimed at ending the NBA’s lockout was set aside so talks could resume.

Twelve hours of talks that began Wednesday afternoon produced little in the way of progress, but for now, time will stand still while the talks continue, beginning with another session today.

It will be the 133rd day since the players were locked out on July 1.

“We have sort of stopped the clock,” Commissioner David Stern said after a 12-hour session that ended after 1 in the morning at a midtown Manhattan hotel.

Frozen in time was Stern’s deadline for acceptance of an offer that included a 50-50 split of basketball related income.

Stern’s warning to the union after mediated weekend bargaining sessions ended in failure had been simple: Accept by the 5 p.m. close of business on Wednesday a league’s offer or face a much worse offer in the future.

The post-deadline offer, Stern said, would be re-set to 47 percent of revenue for the players, with a “flex” salary cap the union already has deemed a hard cap. Further, the re-set offer will seek to roll back current contracts.

The threat continues to hang over players’ heads, but until this latest round of talks is declared a failure, Stern won’t wield it.

“It was our understanding going in that at the end of the negotiating session, whether it ends today or it ends tomorrow, that’s when our offer reverts. But we weren’t, in the middle of discussions, going to say, ‘OK we shouldn’t have taken that break. Stop the clock, it’s all over.’

“We’re trying to demonstrate our good faith and I think that the union is trying to demonstrate its good faith.”

On Wednesday, the threat didn’t appear in the negotiating room, according to Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Association.

“No, it was not (in the room),” he said. “They had sent us a letter indicating the 47 percent deal would occur if we did not reach accord by 5 p.m. today. Because of the nature of the negotiations and the fact there has been so much give and take they have basically agreed to freeze the deadline.”

Despite all that give and take on Wednesday, neither side said much progress was made.

“Nothing was worked out today,” Stern said. “We’ve agreed to convene here tomorrow at noontime and I would not read into this optimism or pessimism. We just continue to negotiate as we continue to negotiate.”

Hunter said the agreement to meet Thursday was an indication of a positive tenor to the talks.

“There was enough give and take on both sides that it merited our coming back tomorrow,” he said.

The union had asked for Wednesday’s negotiations after a meeting of player representatives from 29 of the 30 NBA teams that ended with solid support of the union’s executive committee and Hunter.

Negotiations Wednesday centered on “system” issues the players insist they must have if they are to agree to a 50-50 split of basketball related income.

Wednesday’s talks involved smaller groups than last weekend’s sessions. Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt, chairman of the owners’ labor relations committee represented the league, along with league attorneys Rick Buchanan and Dan Rube.

Union preside Derek Fisher, union vice-president Mo Evans, Hunter, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, attorney Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy represented the players.

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