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NBA’s Stern Sets Lockout Deadline

December 24, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ NBA owners and players have just two weeks left to save their season.

Six months after locking out players, the league set what appears to be a ``drop dead date″ of Jan. 7.

If no agreement is reached by a Board of Governors meeting set for that date in New York, NBA commissioner David Stern will recommend canceling the 1998-99 season.

It would be the first time that a major professional sports league in North America lost an entire season of competition for any reason.

Deputy commissioner Russ Granik said Thursday the labor relations committee would make a report to the board on Jan. 7.

``If we do not have a collective bargaining agreement by that date, then David and I will have to recommend to the board that the 1998-99 season be canceled,″ Granik said.

There was no immediate reaction from the National Basketball Players Association. Stern is on vacation in Aspen, Colo., and union leader Billy Hunter is in Oakland, Calif., for the holidays.

``It’s my view that if the owners are unwilling to move from their current proposal, the season will then be canceled,″ agent Arn Tellem said. ``I believe that ultimately when the players analyze this, there is no way they will ever take the deal on the table.″

No talks are scheduled in the six-month-old dispute, which centers on players and owners trying to decide how to divide $2 billion in annual revenue.

``I assume that some additional negotiations will take place in advance of Jan. 7, but nothing has been scheduled at this time,″ Granik said.

Before Wednesday, Stern had adamantly refused to discuss a ``drop dead″ date.

Stern told Fox Sports News on Tuesday that he talked to Hunter recently.

``I’ve told him we have serious disagreements,″ Stern said. ``I’d love to sit down and negotiate. I would say we are getting pretty close″ to losing the season for lack of a contract after owners locked out players.

Before this season, the NBA had never lost a single game because of labor disputes. So far, 358 games have been canceled.

On Wednesday, the shutdown reached its 158th day. The last round of bargaining took place nearly two weeks ago, and players continue to lose $50 million a week in salaries.

Tellem said that if the owners’ latest proposal were accepted, the number of players earning the minimum _ about $250,000 _ would increase to about half the league over the next three years. He said the number at the minimum salary already had gone up from 25 to 80 during the previous labor deal.

``For players to accept what the owners want would be devastating to the vast majority of all current players and to all future players in the NBA,″ Tellem said.

While baseball has had eight work stoppages since 1972, including a 232-day strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series, it has never lost an entire season. In 1918, the season ended a month early when the United States entered World War I.

The NFL and the NHL played through both World Wars and, like baseball, never lost an entire season of competition to labor strife. In 1919, the Stanley Cup playoffs were not completed due to a flu epidemic.

In addition to salaries, some players are also losing endorsement revenue. Nike, the world’s largest athletic shoe company, is exercising its option to withhold quarterly payments to most of the 230 NBA players it has under contract.

``We are doing this because the lockout is hurting fans, it’s hurting the sport, and it’s hurting the value of our investments in the NBA,″ Nike spokesman Vizhier Mooney said.

Fila USA also has stopped paying five of its 10 NBA players, but Adidas is still fulfilling its endorsement contracts.

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