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Art Garcia

David Stern
Commissioner David Stern was front and center in the NBA's last labor negotiations, in 1999.
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Agree or not, players and owners push labor talks forward

Posted Feb 19 2011 11:04PM

LOS ANGELES -- A meeting of the minds between the NBA and its players on the financial state of the league could be the breakthrough that drives the newly revived labor negotiations forward. NBA commissioner David Stern said Saturday the two sides aren't far apart from agreeing on exactly what the numbers are and what they mean.

National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter wasn't quite as agreeable.

"We sort of both agreed that the numbers are what they are and it doesn't pay to argue about them anymore," Stern said. "They are real. They can be argued about in terms of whether they are X or X minus a little bit, but the numbers are real and the losses are real and the need from our perspective [is] for a different business model.

"That's what is governing our decision, and if it weren't, we would have stayed in the collective bargaining agreement for another year, but we have opted out."

Stern, who has said the league is losing hundreds of millions of dollars per year, said Saturday in his annual address at the All-Star Game that while there are small differences on some accounting matters, both sides found common ground in a meeting on Friday. The commissioner added that the union's position was not to argue about the numbers and that he didn't want to force Hunter to disagree with him publicly.

Yet that's exactly what Hunter did after Stern's press conference.

"There has been ongoing debate and disagreement regarding the numbers," Hunter said in a statement. "And we don't agree that their stated loss figures are an accurate portrayal of the financial health of the league."

Though the two sides seem not to agree on whether they agree on the numbers, Stern exhibited at least some level of optimism that a work stoppage can be avoided.

"I would say what gives me hope is the fact that a lockout would have huge negative consequences for everybody," he said. "And that's what gives me the hope and the belief that we are going to knock ourselves out to get it done."

The current collective bargaining agreement expires June 30. The only lockout in league history occurred in 1999, with the regular season being shortening to 50 games.

"We had a huge gap back then and we have a huge gap now, but you work hard to close it," Stern said. "And I think we have the capacity to do it. Of course we are smarter now than we were then. We've already had a lockout. We know what it feels like."

The league and NBPA did agree at least to one major issue in Saturday's meeting -- they're going to meet more often.

Other topics addressed by Stern:

Competitive balance: "Our goal in these negotiations is to come up with a system where all 30 teams over a period of time have the ability to compete. I think what you'll also see is that the teams that are, that, have been competing the hardest in terms of moving along in the playoffs, are taxpayers. And we don't think that your ability to pay taxes to have a roster should be a part of the competitive landscape."

Revenue sharing: "You increase revenue sharing, [it] doesn't solve a problem if there are losses because you can't revenue share your way to a profit as a league."

Contraction: "I would say it's not currently on the table. There's been no proposal about contraction."

Future of the New Orleans Hornets: "We couldn't have hoped for more than the response that we have been getting. The fans have stepped up in terms of ticket sales. The business community has stepped up."

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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