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Union Exec: NBA May Face Work Stoppage


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Jun 28, 8:32 PM EDT


Union Exec: NBA May Face Work Stoppage



AP Basketball Writer


LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Expressing pessimism after reviewing NBA owners' initial collective bargaining proposal, the director of the players' union said Monday the league could be heading toward a work stoppage at the conclusion of the 2004-05 season.


Union director Billy Hunter addressed several dozen players at the union's annual meeting during a session devoted mainly to labor issues. His message was that history could very well repeat itself, with a distinct possibility there could be a lockout next summer.


"We don't come to this process as neophytes. We don't have the same kind of naivety that we had before," Hunter told The Associated Press. "The guys understand that the negotiations could ultimately result in another lockout, and they have to prepare themselves for that.


"If the owners are not inclined to retreat from their current proposal, there's a high probability there can be another lockout," Hunter said.


The league had the first work stoppage in its history six years ago, a lockout that began in July of 1998, lasted 191 days, cost both sides hundreds of millions of dollars and scarred a league at the pinnacle of its popularity.


Union members say the league has asked for numerous concessions in an initial proposal presented during two preliminary bargaining sessions held after the All-Star break. Owners are seeking a four-year maximum length for any contract, higher luxury tax rates for the clubs with the largest payrolls and lower thresholds to trigger the luxury and escrow taxes.


"How would I describe the proposal? A step back," Hunter said. "In many ways it mirrors the proposal that was presented in 1998, a proposal that lasted at least five months and called for significant rollbacks and forced the players to dig in.


"I suspect that if that continues to be the attitude of the owners, then they might get the same type of reaction from this group of players as they got in 1998 - becoming just as entrenched and instrident as the owners are in terms of what their position is, and where we should and should not be."


NBA commissioner David Stern, upon hearing Hunter's remarks, took a conciliatory tone.


"I'm optimistic. I'm glad that the players are engaged and involved, because whenever you have people who understand the economics of a business thoroughly, you're more likely to reach an agreement," Stern said in a telephone interview.


"I won't even characterize some of the ideas the players represented that they might like to see, but it's fair to say that whenever the players or owners put forth a proposal, it's done with expectation there could be some changes - but that's where negotiations come in. And those negotiations are where deals get done, not by hurling threats in the newspapers."


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The two-day union meeting also marked Shaquille O'Neal's introduction to the inner workings of the organization. He is the newest of six vice presidents on the executive council.


O'Neal, the only player to arrive for the meetings with a bodyguard and personal assistant in tow, has said he would like to succeed Michael Curry as president of the union. Curry, a free agent, would have to resign from his post under union bylaws if he does not receive a contract for the upcoming season.


"He told me he wanted to get involved in January when I met with the (Lakers), and all the players on that team were encouraging him, telling him he needed to be involved in the union and have it be his legacy in the game," Hunter said of O'Neal.


"I've spoken to several people that work with him and for him, and they've told me he's serious. And I think that was reflected (Sunday) when he had several other appointments yet he sat through a three-hour meeting of our executive committee," Hunter said.


O'Neal, wary of being questioned about his desire to be traded from the Los Angeles Lakers, declined to comment during a break in Monday's meeting.


? 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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