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Civility is nice, but will there be NBA labor progress?

Sep 13, 2011, 9:45 AM EDT

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In the last two weeks there have been three long meetings between the lead negotiators of the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (the union).

What has mattered most — what has sparked optimism in some corners — is the lack of rancor. After early meetings there was real frustration and anger on both sides as they dug their heels in for what seemed destined to be a long lockout. But the meetings the last few weeks have been long, filled with talks of ideas, but not a lot of animosity. Plus, both sides have said little to the media about the talks. No public pot shots.

This is all a step forward. It’s much better than where the league was at this point in 1998, points out Howard Beck at the New York Times. During the last lockout, the two sides had met once at this point and would not again until October and were taking public pot shots at one another (and in the players’ case, shooting themselves in the foot).

But is there real, meaningful progress toward a deal?

That we find out in the next couple days. First, larger negotiating bodies will join the talks Tuesday in New York and hear what kind of broad strokes have been discussed the past few weeks. There is not expected to be a formal offer, just outlines. Then whatever is covered today will be discussed at an owners meeting in Dallas Thursday and in Las Vegas with the players the same day.

Beck said his sources warned not to confuse civility with progress.

“Anything that tamps down the rhetoric is a positive,” a person who participated in the rancorous 1998 talks said. “I think generally, the rhetoric is detrimental to the process.”

But, the person added, “I don’t necessarily think that a lessening of the rhetoric means there’s been any progress.”

The two sides have yet to exchange actual proposals on the key issue — how to both define and divide up Basketball Related Income. Once that issue is resolved, other issues like what kind of salary cap to have will fall into place more quickly. But the two sides are reportedly still far apart on the key issue.

Maybe the civility has led to some rough outlines that can be fashioned into a deal in the coming weeks. Maybe. We’ll have a better idea about that in the next few days.

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