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Labor deal is near, Stern says


HOUSTON -- Calling a potential work stoppage in the NBA "very dangerous, and something we very much want to avoid," commissioner David Stern said last night that talks between the players' association and team owners will result in a new collective bargaining agreement, possibly as soon as next week.

There have been reports that the owners would lock out the players after the end of the season, with a rookie salary cap and increased merchandising revenue for players key issues. But Stern said that around-the-clock negotiations over the past three days make such a scenario improbable.

"Intensive negotiations are continuing in New York," Stern said, reading from a statement issued by both sides. "We are pleased to report that substantial progress is being made and we are optimistic that a new collective bargaining agreement will be reached soon. . . . further negotiations are necessary until an agreement can be reached."

And that agreement could be announced at the Board of Governors meeting Tuesday in New York.

"We wouldn't have the meeting unless we thought there would be a deal to close out," Stern said. "There's a collective sense of urgency from our membership, our ownership and our fans."

While progress is apparently being made, both sides have agreed that the existing no-lockout, no-strike agreement, which was reached before the season and is due to expire, will continue "on a short-term basis." So will the moratorium on renegotiating contracts.

The two sides seemed far apart, but when word of a possible lockout surfaced earlier this week, the negotiations intensified.

"You need a crisis or a boiling point to get the parties focused," Stern said. "They've been meeting for the last two or three days. We've had a very productive series of negotiating sessions."

Asked whether the NBA has learned lessons from work stoppages in baseball and hockey that prompted a backlash from fans, Stern said: "We learned it is in our best interest to keep our season going uninterrupted. Fans tune in to read about exploits; they are not interested in reading about commissioners and labor [issues].

"It is our goal to continue on an uninterrupted basis to bring this extraordinary product to our fans around the world."

Stern said that he was happy with the worldwide popularity of the playoffs, which have increased television ratings from a year ago.

"We think the event defines the teams," Stern said, "rather than the markets defining the event."

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