Originally created 07/22/98

NBA and union: Let's talk

NEW YORK -- The NBA and locked-out players agree on one thing: It's time to start talking again.

Commissioner David Stern and players' union director Billy Hunter met Tuesday and agreed to resume collective bargaining. Negotiations have been stalled since June 22.

They plan to speak Friday to set a date.

"It was a very cordial meeting that didn't focus on the specifics of our negotiation," Hunter said through a spokesman. "Instead, we talked more generally about the desire on both our parts to resume bargaining. I let David know that my ultimate goal remains reaching an agreement that both sides can live with as soon as possible."

The sides probably won't schedule talks before the end of this month. Stern has plans to take vacation next week, and deputy commissioner Russ Granik is in Europe with the U.S. world championship team.

Stern and Granik attended the nine negotiating sessions before the lockout, but both do not necessarily have to be there when talks resume.

Tuesday's development may have been a positive sign since Hunter had indicated a day earlier there was no need to resume discussions unless either side would show a willingness to move off its current position.

The sides remain far apart on fundamental economic issues related to divvying up the pile of money known as basketball-related income, or BRI.

Owners had planned to devote between 48 and 52 percent of that money to player salaries under the last labor agreement, but the number rose to 57 percent -- about $950 million -- for the 1997-98 season.

In proposals exchanged before the July 1 imposition of the lockout, the NBA was asking for a "hard" salary cap tied to no more than 50 percent of BRI. The union proposed a reduction in future salary cap growth if BRI hit 63 percent.

Stern has been demanding "cost certainty" in a new deal, while the players say they should not be responsible for protecting owners from themselves.

Other issues that have been discussed but not yet resolved include changes to the rookie wage scale, increased minimum salaries for veterans, player discipline and modifications to the drug agreement

Curiously, neither side has yet proposed a luxury tax, such as the one used in baseball, as a way of deterring high payrolls. During labor talks in 1995, a luxury tax on over-the-cap teams was agreed to before being stricken from the final deal.

On Monday, Hunter said owners have proposed a "reverse luxury tax" under which players would give back a portion of their salaries if the BRI percentage went too high.

That idea was part of one of the four proposals made by the league, all of which were rejected by the players. The union made one proposal early in April that was turned down by the owners.

Hunter said he was unsure which side would make the next formal proposal.

Stern, who was able to keep the site of the breakfast meeting a secret, turned down an interview request. Granik did not return a message left at his hotel in Monaco.


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