NEW YORK -- While owners and players are not expected to hold the second full bargaining session of the lockout until next month, a high-level meeting of top negotiators for both sides will take place next week, a person with knowledge of the meeting confirmed to CBSSports.com on Thursday.
The session is expected to include only the highest-level people from both sides, likely limited to commisioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, union chief Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher, the person said. Also possibly in attendance could be Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the owners' labor relations committee.
The limited number of people in the room and the fact that both sides are trying to keep the meeting quiet -- not even divulging the date or location in an effort to avoid media coverage -- should be seen as positive signs. Though full bargaining sessions featuring multiple owners and players get more public attention, smaller sessions -- especially involving the lead negotiators -- typically are more conducive to serious negotiation.
The sides have convened only one full bargaining session since owners imposed the lockout on July 1, and the day after that session, the NBA filed an unfair labor practices charge and federal lawsuit against the National Basketball Players Association.
There is no indication that either side's position has changed. In fact, to the contrary, as NBPA officials travel the country informing players of the status of talks, the rhetoric from both sides has reached an unhealthy level. Players have beome incensed with Stern's public characterization of the owners' position in various media appearances, and their latest retort came Wednesday from union vice president Maurice Evans, who took Stern to task for his portrayal of the owners' latest offer.
"In the proposals we've given them, the players have compromised over $650 million into the owners' pockets over six years," Evans said. "You say you're losing money, and we've offered over $100 million a year to take out of our pockets and they say, 'That's all? That's all? Just a modest $100 million a year?' That's just not bargaining in good faith. It's hard to get anything done that way."
No significant movement is expected until the players' unfair labor practices complaint is acted upon by the National Labor Relations Board or the two sides get close enough to a time when regular season games would be jeopardized. As in the 1998-99 lockout, mid-October represents the timeframe when the league would have to begin canceling games.
A complaint from the NLRB against the league on the players' charge of failing to bargain in good faith, which could come in the next 30 days, would provide leverage for the NBPA in the form of a possible federal injunction lifting the lockout. Conversely, a failure in the players' bid to get the NLRB to issue a complaint would bolster the owners' position. Either result would be likely to spur more serious bargaining and enhance the chances of compromise.
Until then, a small meeting of the most important minds involved in the process couldn't hurt.