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 N.B.A. Negotiations Yield a Glimmer of Hope for Full Season

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Join date : 2010-11-12

PostSubject: N.B.A. Negotiations Yield a Glimmer of Hope for Full Season   Mon Oct 31, 2011 8:11 am

Optimism, a rare visitor in N.B.A. circles in recent months, crept back into the room on Wednesday — slowly, cautiously and with muted fanfare. The lockout is not over, and a labor deal is not yet in reach. But it may be on the horizon by the weekend.

Negotiators for the league and the players union staged a marathon, 15-hour bargaining session that went from midday Wednesday until 3 a.m. Thursday. They emerged with bloodshot eyes and weary gazes but with a faint glimmer of hope that had not been seen in many months.

There was even talk of restoring a full, 82-game season — a possibility that had been all but ruled out earlier this month, after the league canceled the first two weeks of the season.

“I think it’s too early, not just in the morning, but still in the negotiations, to express confidence that we’re at a deal,” the deputy commissioner, Adam Silver, said at a press conference just before 4 a.m. “There’s no question, though, that we did make progress on some significant issues. But there are still some very significant issues left.”

The progress was made on a number of so-called “system” issues, most notably the luxury tax and other mechanisms for controlling team payrolls. The parties will reconvene at 2 p.m. Thursday to continue the talks, with the goal of reaching a deal this weekend — perhaps in time to construct an 82-game schedule.

“I assume if a deal can be achieved between now and Sunday or Monday of next week, I think it’s possible,” said Billy Hunter, the executive director of the players union.

Commissioner David Stern was more circumspect about the prospect of a full season, but he said the league and the union shared the goal of holding as many games as possible. The season had been scheduled to start on Nov. 1. If a deal is reached in principle by Sunday, the season could conceivably start during the last week of November.

But that possibility remains more of a hope than a tangible reality at the moment. Both sides carefully avoided any overt optimism Thursday morning, and they declined to offer specifics about the talks.

“We were able to work through a number of different issues today regarding our system,” said Derek Fisher, the union president. “We can’t say that major progress was made in any way, but there was some progress on some of our system issues, obviously enough to come back at 2 o’clock tomorrow.”

The tone and the content was markedly different than the last time the two parties spoke publicly. Negotiations had collapsed a week earlier, for the third time this month, despite 30 hours of talks over three days, all with the guidance of a federal mediator. The mediator withdrew from the process and is no longer involved.

One person who was briefed on Wednesday’s talks said the sides had “moved closer” on most of the system issues, but cautioned that an agreement was not in hand. The parties did not discuss the division of revenue, which remains just as critical as the system issues.

The league is proposing a 50-50 split of basketball-related income, or BRI — an improvement over previous offers, but still a major reduction from the 57 percent that the players had been earning. The union is asking for 52 percent, on average.

It was the debate over revenue that caused the talks to collapse last week. At the union’s request, that issue was put aside for now. One working theory is that if the players get a system that meets their approval, they might agree to the 50-50 split, or something close.

“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves at this point,” Fisher said. “We’ll continue to remain focused on some key principle items in our system that have to remain there in order for our players to agree to what is already a reduced percentage of BRI.”

The owners have indicated they will not negotiate beyond the 50-50 position. It was not clear whether they remain steadfast on that figure.

“We did ultimately take their suggestion that we park the issue of the split in revenues,” Silver said. “They know where we stand.”

There were whispers of hope all night, from all sides, but they have been down this road many times before, only to see their efforts crash.

They had met eight previous times this month, for a total of 58 hours stretched over 20 days. But the same two issues — the division of revenue and controls on team payrolls — derailed the talks every time.

Stern, who missed the final negotiating session last week because of illness, returned to the talks Wednesday and seemed energetic, even at 4 a.m.

“The energy in the room has been good,” Stern said. “The back and forth has been good. We’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

He ended the press conference with his usual note of caution: “There’s no deal on anything unless there’s a deal on everything.”

The hastily called meeting continued a month-long pattern of fits and starts. Three times, talks collapsed amid acrimony and despair. Three times, the talks resumed despite it all.

With $4 billion at stake, and the calendar shrinking, the urgency to make a deal once again trumped the negative rhetoric of the previous week. There were phone conversations over the weekend and a staff-level meeting on Monday. By Tuesday evening, arrangements had been made for another meeting.

Wednesday’s session involved just the top officials from each side, a format that has generally produced the most constructive dialogue throughout the bargaining process.

The N.B.A. was represented by Stern; Silver; its top lawyers, Rick Buchanan and Dan Rube; and three owners from the labor-relations committee: Peter Holt (Spurs), James Dolan (Knicks) and Glen Taylor (Timberwolves).

The union contingent was led by Fisher and Hunter, along with the lead attorney Ron Klempner; Maurice Evans, a member of the executive committee; and the economist Kevin M. Murphy. Jeffrey Kessler, the union’s outside counsel and their chief negotiator for most of the process, was absent because of a prior commitment.

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