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NBA Union’s Billy Hunter Says He’s ‘Hopeful’ After 4 Hours of Labor Talks

National Basketball Association players union Executive Director Billy Hunter said he’s more hopeful a labor contract can be agreed upon before the existing accord expires June 30 after four hours of talks yesterday.

Hunter met with NBA Commissioner David Stern in Miami, the first face-to-face negotiations between them in almost two weeks.

“I’m hopeful,” said Hunter. “We know the pressure is building.”

At issue is how much of the league’s more than $4 billion in annual revenue should be directed to players.

The session also featured a handful of owners, including the Spurs’ Peter Holt, chairman of the negotiating committee, Miami’s Micky Arison, New York’s Jim Dolan, Dallas’s Mark Cuban, Boston’s Wyc Grousbeck and Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert.

The owners, Stern says, want a contract that enables lower- revenue clubs to compete for a championship and make money. Roger Mason Jr. of the Knicks said his boss, Dolan, expressed a willingness to share more of his revenue with small-market clubs such as San Antonio.

“Right now, the small-market teams can’t make it,” Holt, the Spurs’ owner, said in an interview.

Stern, meantime, said on paper it would appear that management and labor are far apart on key issues such as the implementation of a hard salary cap and non-guaranteed contracts, two elements that were part of management’s most recent proposal. The commissioner has said teams lost a collective $300 million this season.

Lockout Looming?

Stern said “we’re about to find out” when asked if a lockout would be avoided. Hunter has said he expects owners to impose a lockout.

Owners and players are scheduled to resume negotiations when the NBA Finals, which the Heat lead 1-0 over the Mavericks, switch to Dallas after tonight’s game. The league hasn’t considered extending the June 30 deadline, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said.

Both Hunter and Jeff Kessler, an attorney for the union, declined to say whether the league had dropped its demand for a strict team spending limit.

One member of the union’s executive committee, Keyon Dooling of the Milwaukee Bucks, said it’s promising that the sides are talking, even if they don’t agree on everything.

“We need to find middle ground,” Dooling said. “They’re the platform. We’re the product. We need each other.”

To contact the reporter responsible for this story: Scott Soshnick in New York at ssoshnick@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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