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NFL issues could help motivate NBA labor deal

Apr 21, 2011, 9:37 PM EDT

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It’s hard to be optimistic about the NBA labor situation — and I am by nature and optimist — but today there were a few rays of light into the darkness.

It comes from David Stern, talking to the Associated Press, discussing the mess that is the NFL labor situation.

“It seemed that at the end of the bargaining between the NFL and the players, one got the sense that in the last day or two they had closed the gap,” Stern said Thursday. “I don’t know if that’s accurate or not, but that’s what I read. And you wonder as an outsider whether it would have been a good thing to close that gap a few days earlier, a couple of weeks earlier so that you had the opportunity and the plan to do that.”

“Frankly, we’re running out of time,” (NBA Deputy Commissioner and lead negotiator Adam) Silver said. “We have roughly two months and a week to get a deal done before the expiration of this collective bargaining agreement. And I think on that point, Billy Hunter and the union are in full agreement with us that we need to intensify these discussions.”

They are not going to get a deal done by July 1. There is going to be a lockout this summer. And in another parallel to the NFL situation, that does not matter.

All that matters is if a deal is struck in time for the full regular season to go forward on time. That is the real deadline. Hardcore fans will come back; casual fans will not care if games are not missed. The brilliant Henry Abbott at ESPN’s TrueHoop is optimistic on this count.

Having spoken to the central figures at some length in the past few weeks, I’ll predict that precisely zero regular season games will be lost to a lockout next fall…. I say that because:

•The future holds great things for both parties if the league maintains something like its current relationship with fans.

•Both sides recognize the real long- and short-term costs of a lockout.

•And because both sides strike me as pragmatic enough to sign on the dotted line should a reasonable deal be placed before them.

I can’t tell you how much I hope Abbott is right.

But the people I talk to (people tied to owners among them) say there is a hard-core group of owners who are hawks on some key revenue issues, and at the end of the day Stern works for the owners. Those owners want radical changes in the NBA’s financial structure (basically a healthy change in the Basketball Related Income number, where currently 57 percent goes to the players) and don’t think that can happen until players miss paychecks (and players don’t get their first check until Nov. 15). So, games would be missed.

I want to think that cooler heads will prevail. Stern and Hunter are cooler heads. Everyone talks about what is at stake. But know that some of the owners look a lot like the Heat Miser going into this.

But I’m optimistic, so I hold out hope.

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