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Players, Owners Finally Speak

After 11 days of silence, the opposing sides in the NBA lockout finally spoke Tuesday and agreed to resume formal bargaining talks later this week.

Commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Russ Granik and Steve Mills, the NBA's vice president for basketball development, met for two hours on Day 140 of the lockout with union director Billy Hunter, union president Patrick Ewing and Herb Williams of the Knicks.

"It was, as usual, cordial but unproductive," Granik said. "We didn't get anywhere."

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  • Still, the two sides agreed to the larger session Friday. It will be the first session involving the full owners' and players' negotiating committees since Oct. 28, the night Michael Jordan sat in on an 8½-hour session.

    "We sort of sense that with the holidays approaching, if we don't start making progress soon the season is in jeopardy," Granik said. "We'll give it one more try on Friday."

    The first six weeks of the season already have been scrapped, and with each passing day the likelihood increases of the season not beginning until January.

    "When serious negotiations begin, I would expect (Jordan) will be back in there," agent David Falk said. "The next step has to be for the league to come in with a better offer."

    There had been an expectation around the league that a deal would be reached in time for NBC to televise its first games of the season -- Christmas doubleheader of Chicago vs. New York and the L.A. Lakers vs. Phoenix.

    "My guess isn't better than anybody else's, but I hope we're showing games," said Ed Markey, an NBC spokesman. "If there are no NBA games, we might revert back to showing regular Friday night programming."

    Jordan took part in the last full bargaining talks Oct. 28, exchanging hard words with Washington owner Abe Pollin in a meeting that preceded the 8½-hour session. But Jordan has not been heard from publicly since those discssions ended.

    Falk, whose other high-profile clients include Ewing and Alonzo Mourning, says Jordan will not be the individual to jump-start the bargaining.

    "What this thing is all about is the process of negotiation," Falk said. "Both sides are trying to be fair, but both have different understandings of what fair is. There is a range of fairness, and both sides should make sure they don't overpersonalize this."

    The owners and players are stuck on the main economic argument of what constitutes a fair split of revenue.

    Players, who received 57 percent last season, are offering no concessions to slow salary growth unless the percentage rises to 60 percent.

    Owners, who had the right to

    Michael Jordan
    Michael Jordan, for the time being, will not be a part of the talks. (AP)
    reopen the last labor agreement if the percentage rose above 51.8 percent, want the players to accept 50 percent.

    The owners have offered increased minimum salaries for veterans and have agreed in principle to the union's request for an annual salary cap exception equal to the average salary (which was $2.6 million last season), but have demanded other mechanisms that would limit salaries the highest-paid players could receive.

    In some cases, the offer on the table from the league would cut superstar salaries by tens of millions of dollars per player over several years.

    "I'm against the deal for one reason: It scales back the percentage of revenues going to the players from a projected 60 percent to 48 percent," Falk said. "That's an enormous reduction, and to suggest that it's good is foolish."

    Reiterating his point, Falk pointed out that Jordan was paid more than $33 million last season.

    "If he had decided to take $15 million instead, would that extra money have gone to Jud Buechler and Steve Kerr? Of course not," Falk said. "The league is trying to fool the lower class of players, but the more they push this as a great deal, the more the players see it as a bad deal."

    Answering commissioner David Stern's charge that he and other agents are preventing a deal, Falk said: "Are we holding it up? No. We're not deciding, we're advising. Just like David Stern gets advice, we're giving advice. We're advising the players that it's a bad deal."

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