NBA club owners and players met for more than eight hours on wednesday and planned more talks on Thursday in a bid to resolve their financial differences and avert the loss of more games this season.
League officials postponed the start of a planned two-day owners meeting so Wednesday’s negotiations with players’ union leaders could continue under the eye of federal mediator George Cohen.
“The discussions have been direct and constructive, and as far as we are concerned, we are here to continue to help assist the parties to endeavor to reach an agreement,” said Cohen, who said talks would resume on Thursday afternoon.
The two sides have now met for more than 24 hours in a 32-hour stretch, including 16 hours of talks that began on Tuesday and wrapped up in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Cohen has requested both sides keep mum on the precise nature of the discussions aimed at ending the lockout of players imposed by owners on July 1 — after the previous collective contract expired — and pave the way for a shortened season to begin.
NBA commissioner David Stern has already cancelled the first two weeks of the schedule — 100 games between November 1-14 — and indicated more games would be lost if this week’s talks did not show progress.
The fact that the two sides were talking at all, and for so long, was seen as a hopeful sign by those fearful the NBA might lose an entire season.
Cohen said players and owners have been meeting in both small and large groups.
“Everyone is extremely focused on the core issues, the difficult issues that confront them,” he said.
Billionaire owners and multi-millionaire players are arguing over how to divide what had been around $4 billion in annual revenues.
Unlike the NFL lockout settled in July, where dividing profits was the crucial concern, there are financial losses involved in the NBA talks, owners saying that only eight of 30 teams are profitable.
Owners and players each want 53 percent of basketball-related revenues, a term the sides have yet to agree upon when it comes to which income is in the shared pool and which is not.
In the expired contract, players received 57 percent of basketball-related income and they say their offer to accept less would amount to $1.1 billion in savings over six years for owners.
But players, who have already lost $170 million in salaries due to the cancelled games, do not want to be forced to take pay cuts to bail out owners for their overspending.
Owners are seeking changes to the salary cap structure that would harden the payroll limits, a move players oppose.
Cohen, who oversaw talks during the NFL lockout earlier this season, has also handled owner-player disputes in Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball, where he helped the players’ union end a 7 1/2-month dispute that wiped out the 1994 World Series.
The only prior NBA shutdown over money came in 1998-1999, when the season was cut from 82 to 50 games per club.