Federal mediator George Cohen speaks at a news conference in New York after… (Louis Lanzano / Associated…)
Another day, another grueling negotiating session.
NBA owners and locked-out players met for more than eight hours Wednesday with a federal mediator in an attempt to come to terms on a new labor contract. Both sides agreed to meet for a third consecutive day Thursday.
All told, they have bargained for more than 24 hours in a 32-hour span.
"The discussions have been direct and constructive," said federal mediator George Cohen, who presided over the meetings in New York, which included NBA Commissioner David Stern and players' union Executive Director Billy Hunter, along with several players and team executives.
Cohen has instituted a gag order, telling reporters Wednesday, "Everything said to us is confidential and off the record."
The owners' lockout of players has been in effect since July 1 and has led to the cancellation of the first two weeks of the regular season.
Stern said before mediation that he was bracing to cancel more games — perhaps through Christmas — if progress could not be made by Tuesday.
However, a 16-hour session that began Tuesday continued into early Wednesday morning, and talks resumed about six hours later. After both sides emerged Wednesday afternoon without further cancellations, various reports from inside the talks said the parties are closer to agreeing on how to divide league revenue, which last season stood at $4.3 billion.
The sides have met, Cohen said, with "up to 40 people present in full committees," and also in subcommittees. "Everyone is extremely focused on the core issues — the difficult issues that confront them."
Those issues are how to bridge differences over splitting basketball-related income.
Last season, players received 57% of BRI, or about $2.17 billion in total salary. Owners want to keep at least 50% of BRI in the next labor contract.
Owners also want either a hard salary cap or a luxury tax that would penalize teams — such as the Lakers and NBA champion Dallas Mavericks — up to $3 for each dollar they spend over the cap.
Players argue that type of system would result in reduced guaranteed salary and shorter contracts.
Cohen halted Wednesday's meetings to allow Stern and Boston Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck to leave to attend a previously scheduled NBA Board of Governors planning committee meeting, also in New York. The planning committee is to reconvene Thursday morning.
The Board of Governors is addressing a revenue sharing plan intended to improve economic and competitive balance in the league; the NBA has said 22 of its 30 teams lost money last season, with overall losses of $300 million.
The planning committee includes Jeanie Buss of the Lakers and 12 others, including Sen. Herb Kohl of the Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt.
Also Wednesday, a handful of star players, including Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Blake Griffin of the Clippers, were close to agreeing to play in a worldwide exhibition tour organized by an Atlanta businessman, ESPN reported.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire and Russell Westbrook probably would join Bryant and Griffin on the tour if the NBA lockout continues. Some of the players could earn $1 million for the tour, according to reports.
The games, from Oct. 30 to Nov. 9, would be played in Puerto Rico, London, Macao and Australia.
On Wednesday, the union's attorneys also asked a judge to throw out an NBA lawsuit filed in August claiming that its lockout does not violate antitrust laws. The union still has the option to decertify, opening the way for individual players to sue the league for antitrust practices.
Pugmire reported from Los Angeles.