NBA marathon session ends after 15 hours

Associated Press

NEW YORK — NBA owners and players ended a marathon negotiation session early Thursday after meeting for more than 15 hours in talks aimed at ending the lockout.

They’ll return to the table Thursday afternoon.

“We were able to work through a number of different issues today regarding our system,” union president Derek Fisher said. “We can’t say that major progress was made in any way, but some progress was made on system issues. Obviously enough for us to come back.”

NBA Commissioner David Stern said he hopes to build upon the progress made.

“We’re not going to talk about the particular progress,” he said. “The energy in the room has been good; the back and forth has been good.”

Union executive director Billy Hunter said the two sides did not discuss the distribution of basketball revenue, which has been one of the biggest obstacles to a deal.

The revenue split emerged as such a roadblock last week that Hunter said they should “park” the issue and turn the discussions back to the system, saying that players might be willing to take a lower number if they found the system rules more favorable.

“I think we’ll turn to the split when we finish with the system,” Stern said. “Right now, it has been profitable to turn to the system.”

Seeking greater parity among their 30 teams, owners are looking to reduce the ways that teams can exceed the salary cap so that big markets won’t have a significant payroll advantage. Players have feared that changes owners have been seeking would result in what would essentially be a hard salary cap, restricting player movement and perhaps even eliminating most guaranteed contracts.

“We are united on the NBA side in wanting a system that makes all teams competitive,” Stern said. “We have some strong views on what the best way to do that is.”

The sides returned to bargaining with a small group meeting less than a week after three intense days of mediation didn’t produce a new labor deal. Wednesday’s negotiations marked the second-longest bargaining session since the lockout began July 1. The talks stretched into early Thursday morning, the first time bargaining has gone past 3 a.m.

The first two weeks of the season already have been canceled, and there’s little time left to save any basketball in November.

Both Fisher and Hunter expressed hope that a full 82-game schedule could still be played if a deal is reached by Sunday or Monday.

Stern said the league intends to play as many games as possible.

“Whether that gets to be 82 games or not is dependent upon so many things that have to be checked,” he said. “We just think we’ve got to do it soon.”

He insisted the league never wanted to miss any games.

“It’s sad that we’ve missed two weeks, and we’re trying to apply a tourniquet and go forward,” Stern said. “That’s always been our goal.”

Talks broke down last Thursday when players said owners insisted they agree to a 50-50 split of revenues as a condition to further discuss the salary cap system.

The players have lowered their proposal to 52.5 percent of basketball-related income, leaving the sides about $100 million apart annually, based on last season’s revenues. Players were guaranteed 57 percent of BRI under the previous collective bargaining agreement.

Stern rejoined the talks Wednesday after missing last Thursday’s session with the flu. He was joined by Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, owners Peter Holt of San Antonio, Glen Taylor of Minnesota and James Dolan of New York, and a pair of league office attorneys.

The union was represented by Hunter, Fisher and vice president Maurice Evans of the Wizards, attorney Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy.

The sides also are struggling over items such as the length of the deal, players’ contract lengths and the size of their raises.

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