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Steve Aschburner

Start of season at stake in proposed weekend labor talks

Posted Sep 28 2011 3:52PM - Updated Sep 29 2011 8:14AM's Labor Central

NEW YORK -- A huge weekend looms in the NBA's labor dispute, with both sides committing to negotiations Friday and potentially Saturday and Sunday in hopes of preserving the start of the 2011-12 regular season.

The owners and the players met for a second consecutive day Wednesday, not so much making progress as agreeing that the three-month-old lockout had reached a critical stage: By the time the two sides wrap up this weekend, they and everyone else might know whether labor strife will force the NBA to postpone or cancel regular-season games for only the second time in its history.

"There are enormous consequences at play here on the basis of the weekend," NBA commissioner David Stern said after a four-hour bargaining session. "Either we'll make very good progress and ... we know how good that would be. Or we won't make any progress and then it won't be a question of just starting the season on time. There will be a lot at risk."

The NBA's regular season is scheduled to open on Nov. 1. The only previous time the league canceled part of its schedule was in 1998, when a six-month lockout shortened the season to 50 games.

Union president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers said: "It points to the realities that we face with our calendar. If we can't find a way to get some common ground really, really soon, then the time of starting the regular season at its scheduled date is going to be in jeopardy big-time."

The meeting Friday will be a larger one -- opened up to the owners' 11-member Labor Relations Committee and to the union's Executive Committee -- after two days of talks featuring only principal players. Other owners and players are welcome to attend, both sides said.

"Because whatever decisions we were now going to be making would be so monumental giving the point of the calendar that we're at," NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said, "we thought we should [have the larger groups in attendance.]"

"The idea is to bring in the principal parties who are going to make the decision, whether this thing moves forward or not," Fisher said.

Both sides, without divulging details of any the proposals in play, made it clear that they are not close to a deal at all. What they are close to is the point by which games continue to get canceled -- and not just preseason games, the first week of which were zapped last Friday.

Even with some progress behind closed doors this weekend, it is possible that more of the scheduled tune-up games would have to be canceled. A minimum of two weeks would be needed from a handshake agreement to a ratified collective bargaining agreement, with free agency and some modified period for training camps squeezed in before any real games.

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

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