Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBA players' union, speaks… (Patrick McDermott / Getty…)
The hours began to pile up, as they had numerous times the last few weeks of negotiations, but only one thing became clear as Wednesday bled into Thursday.
The NBA lockout officially lasted longer than the NFL lockout.
Representatives for NBA owners and the players' union emerged from a 12-hour meeting in a New York hotel with an agreement only to meet again Thursday afternoon.
Players appeared to come closer to accepting the owners' demand for a 50-50 split of basketball revenue but wanted victories on peripheral issues.
The players wanted to keep alive the mid-level exception for teams that were over the salary cap, but few owners had wanted to retain the spending tool that allowed middle-of-the-road free agents to sign five-year contracts worth $29 million last season.
Players also wanted to avoid a harsher luxury tax because it would inhibit free-spending teams that hadn't been bothered in recent seasons by paying a dollar-for-dollar penalty whenever the luxury threshold was crossed.
"Obviously we'd have a deal done if the right flexibility was being shown [by owners]," players' union President Derek Fisher said. "The fact that we don't have a deal obviously lets you know that there's still a lot of work to be done on the system. We're going to meet again [Thursday] to give it our best effort, but we're not sure if it will be enough."
The NFL lockout lasted 132 days and led to the cancellation of only one exhibition game. The NBA lockout has now lasted 133 days and already forced the entire slate of games in November to be canceled.
There was mild optimism Wednesday morning, mainly because players and owners decided to meet before NBA Commissioner David Stern's 5 p.m. ultimatum, a take-it-or-leave-it deadline in which he promised that owners' proposals would grow worse for players if there was no agreement.
So the sides blew through that deadline and negotiated until 1 a.m. Thursday.
Stern's ultimatum was erased as long as negotiations continued, but the end result Wednesday was the same as other sessions since the owners locked out the players July 1.
"Nothing was worked out [Wednesday]," Stern said. "We've got lots of things to talk about, but I don't even want to talk about our current state of mind or where exactly we are."
Players made 57% of basketball revenues last
season, but they gradually came down to 52% last week and might have made a move closer to 50% on Wednesday.
The NBA's latest offer had been a sliding-scale proposal in which the league said players could make 49% to 51%, though players contended they would never receive more than 50.2% with that offer.
If the sides don't reach agreement, players reportedly will receive 47% of league revenue in the owners' next proposal, and existing player contracts will be rolled back an unspecified percentage.
If agreement eludes the players, another possibility would be to dissolve their union, an extreme legal measure also known as decertification that would allow them to file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA, claiming their ability to market themselves was hindered by the league's hard-line negotiating.
Stern said neither optimism nor pessimism could be read into the long negotiating session.
"We're not failing and we're not succeeding," Stern said. "We're just there."
Bresnahan and Turner reported from Los Angeles.