Wednesday's deadline came and went and the NBA and its players union kept talking into early Thursday morning. And though once again the sides emerged without a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement, they did agree to at least pick up the conversation thursday afternoon.
"We're not failing and we're not succeeding,'' NBA commissioner David Stern said. "We're just there.''
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Where exactly are they? From the sound of things, right where they started. While there seems to be somewhat of an agreement on the split of league revenue -- 50-50 is likely what will be the outcome -- the union is trying to get the owners to soften up on some of the restrictions on the salary cap system. Asked if the owners have shown a willingness to give on some of these issues, union president Derek Fisher said, "Not as much as we'd like.''
The NBA had set a Wednesday at 5 p.m. expiration for the current proposal, which was presented last Sunday, and the sides agreed to sit down Wednesday to attempt to reach an accord. After calling it a night at 1 a.m. Thursday, Stern said the league agreed to extend the deadline as a demonstration of good faith.
"There was enough give-and-take for both sides that merited us to come back [Thursday],'' union executive director Billy Hunter said.
Both sides said very little and chose their words carefully as not to cause any friction at a delicate point in the talks.
The meeting, which wasn't finalized until the morning, started at just after 1 p.m. at a Manhattan hotel and included small groups for both sides. For the NBA, it was Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, Spurs owner Peter Holt (chairman of the labor relations committee), general counsel Rick Buchanan and deputy counsel Dan Rube. For the players, it was Hunter, Fisher, economist Kevin Murphy, general counsel Ron Klempner, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler plus executive committee member Mo Evans.
Stern told the union that if a deal was not reached by "the close of business'' on Wednesday, the owners planned to revert to their negotiating stance from the summer, which included a hard-cap system and a 53-47 split of league revenue in favor of the owners.
And Hunter suggested that there was even more at stake than just the owners' threat of resetting their offer. He said on Tuesday that he was hearing "from the underground'' that the league was prepared to cancel games through Christmas.
During an interview on NBATV Tuesday night, Stern said, "I don't know what ground he is talking about and under what ground he is looking.''
Stern then added, "We have made no such plans and have no such discussion. We need 30 days to start the season from the time we make an agreement.''
Before the meeting began Kessler, who has breathed the most fire from the union side, issued an apology for making a racially-charged statement about the owners in an interview with the Washington Post.
Kessler compared the owners' treatment of the players in collective bargaining to that of ""plantation workers.'' A few weeks ago, HBO's Bryant Gumbel also made reference to Stern acting as a "modern day plantation overseer.''
"Kessler's agenda is always to inflame and not to make a deal,'' Stern replied in the Washington Post story. "Even if it means injecting race and thereby insulting his own clients . . . He has been the single most divisive force in our negotiations and it doesn't surprise me he would rant and not talk about specifics. Kessler's conduct is routinely despicable."
Hours before the meeting, Kessler, who was in attendance, released a statement of apology Wednesday morning to ESPN.
"The comments that I made in The Washington Post took place in an interview late Monday after a very long day,'' Kessler said. "Looking back, the words that I used were inappropriate; I did not intend to offend. I was merely passionately advocating for the players. I intend to call Commissioner Stern and offer my apologies for the remarks. It is very important that there be no distractions now and that the parties try to make a deal to save the season.''