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NBA's Stern, Hunter Meet Again

NBA commissioner David Stern and union director Billy Hunter held an unexpected meeting Friday on the 129th day of the lockout.

With progress moving at a glacial pace and the sides apparently dug in for the long haul, there were more questions than answers.

Among the mysteries:

  • Is Stern bluffing when he says he'll cancel the season?
  • Is Hunter being held back by David Falk?
  • When is the "drop-dead" date for saving the 1998-99 season?
  • When will it end?

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    "We're just worlds apart, and NBA players are losing on average $14 million per game," Stern said Thursday.

    "When the owners show some willingness to engage in compromise ... we'll be glad to recommend the deal to our players," Hunter said.

    The sides remain far apart on both the framework for a deal and the percentage of revenue owners will be devoting to salaries. The players, who received 57 percent last season, are asking for 60 percent. The owners, who wanted to pay no more than 51.8 percent last season, want the percentage scaled back to 50 percent.

    The compromise would seem to be 55 percent, yet Stern practically recoiled in disgust when it was suggested that the sides simply meet in the middle.

    Pointing out that the old deal didn't work for the owners at 52 percent, Stern said it will be hard to get him to budge.

    David Stern
    David Stern didn't get much out of his latest meeting with Billy Hunter. (AP)

    "If the question is whether to close things out the players could squeeze me to pay a little more than 50 percent, first get me to the close-out of the negotiations," he said. "But we're nowhere near that."

    Hunter had no answer wheasked what was wrong with 55 percent, but he has said in the past that the players shouldn't accept less than what they are currently getting, especially in light of the other concessions the union has made -- lengthened rookie scale, possible decrease in cap growth, luxury tax and escrow tax.

    Stern is threatening to cancel the season, but Hunter and several agents think the commissioner is bluffing and will do a deal at the last possible moment, whenever that is.

    Stern and deputy commissioner Russ Granik have refused to give an exact "drop dead" date, but Granik said recently that it would be somewhere in mid-December.

    So if an agreement was reached Dec. 20, for example, the season could start Jan. 14. Each team would have only 50 games left, but an additional six could be squeezed in if the All-Star game was canceled and an extra week was added on to the end of the regular season. That would allow for a 56-game schedule in which each team played every other team twice.

    Stern has charged agents like Falk, who represent the highest-salaried players, with slowing the process. Hunter responded by saying Stern was trying to divide the union and insisting that himself and union president Patrick Ewing have been in charge of the negotiations since Day 1.

    Falk seems to be upset with the proposals on the table because the union has offered a mechanism to limit high-end salaries. Suddenly, Falk clients Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury will not have the opportunity to cash in with a $120 million contract like Kevin Garnett did. If their contracts are limited to a maximum of, say, $60 million, Falk and his clients will have sustained a huge loss.

    "Three years ago, we knew the deal would benefit the high-end players at the expense of the middle class," Falk said, arguing that the owners' proposal will hurt nearly everyone. "As it is now, this deal will limit the high-end and hurt the middle class."

    © 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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