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NBA, Players Union Head for Showdown Next Week


Negotiators for the NBA and its players union will meet in New York Tuesday in an effort to resolve differences that have delayed signing of a six-year, $5-billion labor contract ratified by the players and owners before the league allowed the 1995-96 season to begin.

Asked Friday if there would be a lockout--as there was after the close of the 1994-95 season--NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "I hope not. We're trying to wrap this up." Asked what it would take to wrap up a deal, he said, "A lot."

July 1 is the first day that free agent players can negotiate with teams. Thus, the Washington Bullets' efforts to re-sign forward Juwan Howard could be put on hold if the league locks out the players and forbids teams to conduct off-season business such as negotiating contracts. This is what happened last year.

Stern declined to discuss specifics of unresolved issues. He said Jeffrey Kessler, the NBA Players Association's attorney, "has reneged on fundamental understandings that we reached on virtually every subject" with Simon Gourdine, the former union leader who was dismissed in January by a new group of player representatives.

A group of dissident players, including Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, took issue with the tentative agreement that Gourdine had reached last June with the league on behalf of the players association. Kessler and Jim Quinn were two of the attorneys representing the dissidents; they now represent the player's association. A second agreement was struck in July.

Last September, the players voted to retain their union and ratify the second agreement and the season began on time. But the agreement was never signed.

The NBA and the players decided to play the 1995-96 season and negotiate the remaining labor-management disputes after the season.

The issues for negotiators involve such areas as the league's lucrative licensing agreements and pension plan. Their resolution will determine whether "tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars" will be directed to the players or the owners during the $5-billion deal that expires after the 2000-2001 season, Quinn said. Also at issue is how the salary cap is implemented and what revenues should be used to determine the salary cap, Quinn said.

Kessler was in court Friday on other business and was unavailable for comment. Quinn said the league has made no threat a lockout. Quinn said an impasse is not inevitable. "That's what bargaining is all about," he said. "It's not impossible to get resolved. From the players' point of view, these are important issues, but there is a deal here."

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