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Secret NBA meetings said bearing fruit Stern, Hunter seen close to lockout-ending deal


HOUSTON -- NBA commissioner David Stern and union executive director Billy Hunter have been holding secret meetings and are close to reaching a deal that could end the 164-day-old NBA lockout before Christmas, sources close to the negotiations said last night.

The sources said the framework for a new collective-bargaining agreement could be hammered out as early as next week, putting NBA players back on the court by the end of January and salvaging what had been getting precariously close to a lost season.

Talks are still in a "delicate" stage, but Stern and Hunter are close to resolving several points of contention in the often-acrimonious labor negotiations between the owners and the National Basketball Players Association. And the only way they felt it could get done was away from the media spotlight.

"Billy as well as David understands the fact that if we get this [a new agreement] done, they're going to have to do it," said one source of the secret meetings. "They weren't going to get it done [with the negotiating committees] because there was just too much finger-pointing going on."

It is expected that the final agreement will have players receiving an average of 54 percent of basketball-related income over the life of a seven-year agreement, even though the union was still asking for a bit more than that as of yesterday.

The owners will respond by relaxing their proposal for a timing-rule change, which would have forced teams that sign another team's free agent to forfeit the right to go over the salary cap to re-sign their own Larry Bird-exception free agents.

The league will reportedly organize a schedule that will have teams playing exclusively in their respective conferences, which what hockey did after the lockout of 1994-95.

Pub Date: 12/12/98

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