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Players and owners still talking, though no progress made

By Steve Aschburner,
Posted Jun 24 2011 6:46PM

NEW YORK -- The latest round of NBA bargaining talks began Friday morning with a flood of about 40 players into the meeting in midtown Manhattan wearing identical gray T-shirts over their street clothes. The message, in bold yellow type beneath a silhouette of multiple players standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the front: "STAND / 2011 NBPA Summer Meeting NYC."

With the threat of a lockout looming once the current collective bargaining agreement expires Thursday, it was important to the players both to express their togetherness and to actually attend a session in the process of proposals and counter-proposals that will decide their professional fates.

"The message is just solidarity," said Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.

That's what STAND meant when the day began. Nearly five hours later, as owners, players, lawyers and staffers scattered for the weekend, it might have been shorthand for:

Still Talking, Although No Deal.

There was no progress made on specific issues Friday. The sides agreed to meet again next week in New York on Wednesday, Thursday or both. They agreed, too, not to discuss the substance of Friday's meeting.

The owners have a Board of Governors meeting Tuesday in Dallas, with reports due on revenue-sharing and collective bargaining. A vote to authorize a lockout might or might not be taken then.

But NBA commissioner David Stern said that formality was less important than what might happen in the 48 hours that come after Dallas.

"The best time we're going to spend next week, hopefully, is in a meeting with the players on Wednesday that with any luck goes over to Thursday," Stern said. "That's where we are.

"The one thing that we don't want is a lockout. We've told the players that. We've expressed a willingness to negotiate over everything. So Wednesday, Thursday gives us two days."

The players did not come to Friday's session with any tweaks to previous proposals, Hunter said, partly because they feel their latest offer of $500 million in salary givebacks over five years is sufficient and partly because they feel the owners' revenue-sharing talks could lessen the need for players to provide a financial fix.

NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, however, reminded reporters that the league is running at a collective loss (nearly $300 million). "As we've said repeatedly," Silver said, "if we lose money on an aggregate basis, we can't possibly revenue-share our way to profitability."

The value of Friday's session, besides continuing the face-to-face talks into next week, seemed to come from involving a broader group of players. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Richard Jefferson and a host of other player-reps and interested union members attended in the biggest gathering thus far.

The sides have met seven times in three cities since The Finals began on May 31. It is conceivable that, if enough progress can be made, the deadline could be extended beyond June 30.

"It was great to have so many players in the room," Stern said. "I think sometimes by not being part of the dialogue, by not hearing the expression of the other sides' point of views, by not observing the give-and-take and actually by not engaging in the give-and-take, you lose something. So we were hoping that more players would come and were actually cheered by the fact that they were there."

Union chief Derek Fisher said several on the owners' side were glad to get the players' input directly.

"By bringing in a large group of guys," Fisher said, "we wanted to express to the owners and everyone that our players do understand the issues. They do understand the numbers, the proposals. We're not, as an executive committee or legal counsel, pulling the wool over their eyes or telling them it's something different from what [it is]."

A number of players spoke up or asked questions, taking a more active role. Stern was heartened by that and said that the owners "absolutely" benefited from seeing and hearing many of their own players in that context. Adding and filling extra chairs at the table did not impede negotiations, the commissioner said.

"It is a session that is designed to understand sometimes the intensity of a feeling and sometimes the subtlety of differences," he said. "I find that to be helpful."

Said Fisher: "It's hard work in there. It's contentious at times. There's mutual respect in the room. But we're hard at it."

With talks continuing and many hours to go, someone might eventually have to print up some SIT T-shirts.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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