Posts Tagged ‘NBPA’

Hunter Defends Union Conduct

Longtime MLB and NHL labor nemesis Donald Fehr’s name has been mentioned. The acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, B. Todd Jones, might be approached, though he already has two jobs and he’s in the midst of his own controversy at the moment. And NBA.com’s David Aldridge on Monday offered up a trio of candidates who could be worthy choices to head up the National Basketball Players Association.

All this speculation about Billy Hunter’s possible successor as NBPA executive director was enough to trigger Hunter’s first interview defending his performance and arguing why he should continue in his job.

It might, however, be too little, too late. Again.

Too late because, for the second time in a week (and borrowing a term from politics), Hunter has tried to lead from behind. It was only after he was cited in an independent audit commissioned by the players for incidents of nepotism and conflict of interest that Hunter announced a series of “governance reforms” in how the NBPA would conduct its business.

Now, even as a list of replacements was being informally (or maybe even formally) compiled, Hunter tried to catch up to the process in a sitdown interview with the New York Times Wednesday. He is on indefinite paid leave blocking him from NBPA business or contact with NBA players while the union sorts through its options in advance of a highly scrutinized Feb. 16 meeting at All-Star Weekend in Houston.

Of course, Hunter’s silence to this point might have been driven by legal advice. A federal investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan and the Labor Department still is underway. The Times, citing an anonymous source, reported that “grand-jury subpoenas were issued to a number of players and union employees over the last several weeks and that the state of New York’s attorney general has begun an inquiry. Hunter has maintained throughout that none of his actions rise to the criminal level:

“They didn’t find one dime missing, nothing out of place.”

The too-little part? It’s risky to confuse quantity with quality in interview situations — men and women of few words can speak volumes — but Hunter’s quotes in Howard Beck’s story totaled a mere 184 words. In what was billed as a 65-minute interview, much of the time seemingly was taken up by Hunter’s attorney, Thomas Ashley, or by disputing specifics in the damaging report compiled by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Among the more significant concerns cited in the audit were Hunter’s hiring of family members; his receipt of a $1.3 million vacation payout that was inadequately documented; the decision to spend $80,000 in “due diligence” on a possible investment in a failing bank that had ties to his son; and questionable travel expenses. Hunter called the report “just a lot of little things.”

“It’s almost like you put enough together, and you throw it up against the wall, hopefully something will stick,” he said. “But when you look at them each individually, we can rebut them.”

The challenge for Hunter might be getting an appropriate forum. The Times story noted that Boston’s Paul Pierce and Brooklyn’s Deron Williams already have spoken publicly about the need for a replacement. And veteran Jerry Stackhouse is ready for a change, too, according to Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News.

The Times story noted, too, that the 70-year-old director might not be permitted to attend meetings at All-Star Weekend that could decide his fate. Hunter seemed skeptical that he would be given a fair chance by union president Derek Fisher or the executive committee to present his side of the issues, beyond what he already has done.

“I assume that between now and then that Derek will be doing everything he can to stack the deck,” Hunter said, referring to the coming union meeting, “so that they have the appropriate players in place to vote according to their request or plan.”

Hunter’s future would be determined by a vote of the NBPA’s 30 player representatives. In the event things don’t go as he might like, Hunter and Ashley said that – if he were terminated – they feel the $10.5 million and benefits left on his contract still would be due him. A legal fight for it, if necessary, surely would ensue.

Two items of interest related to that: First, the NBPA’s coffers apparently are in great shape, with a reported $80 million surplus, according to the Times story.

Second, NBA players have talked for years about their “partnership” with the owners. Well, one thing owners sure are good at is firing people in leadership positions (a.k.a. coaches) and paying them not to work even as they hire – and pay – replacementa. The NBPA soon might be feeling that partnership more than ever.

Has Time Run Out On Embattled Hunter?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Time appears to be running out on Billy Hunter.

The National Basketball Players Association has accused their executive director of the greatest sin — forgetting his lone task to serve the best interests of membership. On Friday, the NBA Executive Committee put Hunter on indefinite leave of absence.

That decision was announced in a news release in which NBPA president Derek Fisher said that “immediate change is necessary.”

Hunter has been embroiled in controversy since the end of the lockout. But the heat’s been raised in particular over the last couple weeks since an independent law firm’s unsavory findings raised a number of ethical issues, including whether Hunter’s multi-million-dollar contract did not have proper approval from the players representatives, and widespread nepotism.

In the last few weeks, Hunter has scrambled to save his job, including firing family members that he hired to work for the union.

Ron Klempner, currently serving as NBPA Deputy General Counsel, will be appointed Acting Executive Director until further decisions can be made. The executive committee has formed two new committees, the Interim Executive Committee and Advisory Committee, to move the organization forward.

Fisher released this statement:

Unfortunately, it appears that Union management has lost sight of the NBPA’s only task, to serve the best interests of their membership.  This is the reason I called for a review almost a year ago.  The findings of that review confirm this unfortunate truth and we must now move forward as Players.  Immediate change is necessary and I, along with the Committee Members, are committed to driving the process as difficult as it may be.  We ask for the cooperation, trust and patience of the Players, their representatives and some of our hard working NBPA staff as we navigate through this situation.  But rest assured that our goal is to do what is right for the Players and we will emerge stronger than before.

The eight-month review by the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP urged players to consider whether they want to keep Hunter as the union’s executive director when they meet in two weeks in Houston during the All-Star break.

By putting Hunter on a leave of absence now, he will be unable to address the NBPA membership when it gathers in Houston.

The report found no evidence of illegal use of union funds, but it did reveal that Hunter withheld knowledge that his contract was never properly approved by player representatives, that he used poor judgment with his hiring practices to award jobs to family members and that he spent improperly on travel and gifts.

Hunter, 70, took over the top position with the NBPA in 1996.

In as little as two weeks from now, he could be out, which certainly seems to be the direction this is headed.

At that point, what would be next for Hunter? Could he face jail time in the wake of ongoing criminal and civil investigations by the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York?

Again, the independent law firm review suggested Hunter did nothing illegal, but stated: “No matter the explanation, when viewed collectively, his choices created the appearance that he operated the union in part for the benefit of his family and friends. The appearance of favoritism has damaged the union. Mr. Hunter’s pattern of involving friends and family in union business contributed to a deep rift among the NBPA staff.”

The report found:

  • Hunter hired his daughter and nephew, permitted a daughter-in-law to remain on staff, and spent more than $80,000 of union funds to evaluate an investment in a banking firm that employed his son
  • Hunter also spent more than $100,000 of union funds to purchase gifts for executive committee members, including a $22,000 watch for Fisher in June 2010, and that he made “questionable choices” when charging travel expenses to the NBPA

At the very least, it appears Hunter will be looking for a new job and the NBPA will have a new person in charge down the road when the next round of collective bargaining agreement negotiations heat up.

Union Chief Hunter Suggests Reforms To Thwart … His Past Abuses?

National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, under fire from charges of nepotism and conflicts of interest in recent weeks, announced a series of “governance reforms” Wednesday to be presented to the union at All-Star Weekend.

The measures, as described in an NBPA release, seem designed to prevent the sort of abuses in which Hunter was found to have engaged in, according to an independent investigation commissioned by the players and released Jan. 17. That report led to a letter from Arn Tellem, one of sports’ top player agents, to his clients that was made public Tuesday and called for Hunter’s dismissal.

Hunter responded Tuesday, according to multiple media reports, by announcing the termination of his daughter and daughter-in-law from union-related positions and severing investment relations with Prim Capital, where his son was employed. The NBPA announcement one day later makes those moves official and recommends other policy changes.

Presumably, those will include greater oversight over NBPA contracts, since Hunter’s most recent extension — upping his annual salary to approximately $3 million — was alleged to have been reviewed only by one attorney, since deceased, without full approval of the executive committee.

The NBPA statement includes a summary of the controversy from Hunter:

“While the external report contains various recommendations in several key areas, it is incumbent upon the Executive Director, Executive Committee, and Player Representatives to ensure the smooth operation of the union. In my work for the NBPA, my priority has always been to promote the interests of the players.  Through the benefit of hindsight, as with any executive, there are always things that could have been done better, ” added Hunter.

It will be up to the league’s player reps, and overall union membership, at All-Star Weekend to decide if the moves are better late than never. Or more barn door closed after the horse is gone.

Union Chief Hunter Faces More Scrutiny, Acts On Nepotism Claim In Report

All-Star Weekend is the NBA’s de facto annual convention, a mostly happy mix of basketball, brand-building, show biz, sponsorships and celebration, with a little bit of league business thrown in. Things figure to be a little more heavy this year, however, from the players’ side.

The National Basketball Players Association will be faced with serious questions about executive director Billy Hunter’s fitness to continue in his current position, based on reports Tuesday by the New York Times and Bloomberg News. They represent the latest challenges to Hunter’s performance, coming in the wake of the Jan. 17 release of an independent law firm’s findings. That report, commissioned by the players, was strongly critical of the executive director’s business practices.

In the Times’ piece, Arn Tellem, one of the NBA’s most powerful player agents, called for Hunter’s removal and urged that they take action at All-Star Weekend in Houston. The paper obtained a copy of Tellem’s letter to his players.

“N.B.A. players deserve better representation from the union they fund,” Tellem writes in the letter. “I implore you and your fellow players to take control of your union and your future. It’s time for Mr. Hunter to go.”

Tellem suggests that players should make that decision when the players association holds its annual All-Star meeting on the weekend of Feb. 15 to 17. That is also when the players will discuss the recent audit, by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. Representatives of the firm are expected to present the findings and answer questions.

In his letter, Tellem suggests that Hunter should not be allowed to attend that meeting to prevent him from any attempt “to intimidate and manipulate.” Tellem writes: “Hunter is betting that the players — historically passive — will let him slide. I hope you don’t. Clearly, Hunter has violated your trust.”

The Bloomberg story reported that Hunter dismissed family members from union roles after the Paul, Weiss report cited its findings of nepotism and conflict of interest  The moves were disclosed in a Jan. 23 letter Hunter wrote to a special committee of players.

The New York-based union paid almost $4.8 million to Hunter’s family members and their professional firms since 2001, according to public records. Hunter makes $3 million a year as union chief.

“Hopefully this decision will alleviate any concerns raised by their employment,” Hunter wrote in the letter. “These measures are being taken although the report noted that both of them were highly qualified, not overpaid, and were contributing members of the NBPA staff.”

Robyn Hunter, the director’s daughter, ceased working at the union on Jan. 25, according to the letter. Megan Inaba, his daughter-in-law and director of special events and sponsorships, will leave on Feb. 17 after the National Basketball Association’s All-Star weekend.

Hunter, 70, also secured a letter of resignation from Prim Capital, which employs his son, Todd.

Hunter, through union spokesman Dan Wasserman, declined to comment on the letter or his family’s employment changes.

The independent report of two weeks ago focused on Hunter’s ethics and raised questions about the approval process for his current five-year contract as director, worth approximately $15 million. Tellem’s letter was highly critical of Hunter’s performance in leading NBA players through the 2011-12 lockout.

Tellem was one of six agents who, at the height of tensions during the dispute, called for the union to decertify, which would have removed him as a principal in the process. He resisted, only later accepting the players’ strategy to file a “disclaimer of interest” as a less strident – and perhaps less effective – alternative.

More from the Times story:

Tellem devotes a major portion of his letter to criticizing Hunter’s handling of the lockout, saying that the union chief was “tactically, strategically and logistically unprepared” and that Commissioner David Stern “outmaneuvered Mr. Hunter from the get-go.” The decision to reject decertification, Tellem writes, showed that Hunter was “more concerned with saving his job and salary than in making the best deal for the players.”

The procedure for firing Hunter is not entirely clear, although it would presumably begin with the 60 or so player representatives (two from each team). The union also has a nine-player executive board, but that board has seven vacancies because of the union’s failure to hold an election within the last year. An election is scheduled for All-Star weekend.

Last year at this time, parties on both sides – owners and players – were happy just to have salvaged a season that could include a 2012 All-Star Weekend. The 2013 edition figures to be a lot more work and a little more heated.

NBA, Union Exec Gourdine Dead At 72

Simon Gourdine’s most notable NBA moments came long before social media, but the former league and players association executive who died at age 72 would have had lit up Twitter, Facebook and other Internet outlets had they been around through Gourdine’s wildly divergent pro basketball incarnations.

A Manhattan native, lawyer and Harvard MBA who worked as an assistant district attorney in New York, Gourdine first linked up with the NBA in 1970 when NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy hired him as his in-house counsel. Gourdine was named NBA deputy commissioner in 1974, becoming the highest ranking African-American executive in sports at that time.

Alongside another young lawyer working for the league – guy named David Stern – under Larry O’Brien, Kennedy’s successor, Gourdine helped negotiate labor agreements with the players in 1976 and 1979. But when he felt his chances of succeeding O’Brien were fading, Gourdine left in 1981 to work for the Department of Consumer Affairs in New York City.

He returned to the NBA scene in 1990 on the other side of the bargaining table, as the National Basketball Players Association’s general counsel. When executive director Charles Grantham abruptly resigned in April 1995, Gourdine took over the top job and negotiated the labor deal that ended the 1995 lockout and instituted the NBA’s first rookie wage scale.

But Gourdine was forced out by a group of players and their agents, including Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan, who felt the deal favored the owners and had urged the decertification of the union. They pressured the NBPA’s executive board to oust Gourdine despite a freshly signed two-year contract; an arbitration panel awarded him approximately $1 million in back pay and interest when it ruled he had been fired without cause. (more…)

Union strife irks past NBPA presidents

CHICAGO – Serious men tackling significant issues. That’s how some past leaders of the National Basketball Players Association view their group’s history, and that’s why the current power struggle within the union is so troubling to them.

“They’re making too much money,” said Oscar Robertson, a former NBPA president whose lawsuit to prompt free agency in the NBA is nearly as legendary as his Hall of Fame career and triple-double feats. “There are no goals to strive for anymore. They got together and got the collective bargaining agreement resolved. There’s no goals now.”

The CBA that the players and owners ratified in December ended an acrimonious, five-month labor lockout, salvaged a shortened 2011-12 season and got the NBA to eve of what it hopes will be a memorable postseason. The deal also shifted $3 billion from the players to the owners if it runs its full 10-year term, caused factions within the union’s ranks and led to the intramural conflict now between NBPA president Derek Fisher and executive director Billy Hunter.

Fisher has asked for an independent audit of the union’s finances and business practices, which allegedly include compensation and opportunities funneled to Hunter’s family members through direct employment and affiliations, according to stories by Yahoo! Sports and the New York Times. The executive committee of eight current and former NBA players responded by voting 8-0 asking for Fisher’s resignation, which the veteran point guard has declined.

It all has bubbled over, in an age of endless media coverage, at an awkward time of year for those involved, putting the union’s business very much in the sports world’s streets. “What bothers me more than anything,” said Robertson, the NPBA president from 1965-74,  “if they’ve got a problem, why don’t they settle it within their organization instead of going public with the whole thing? We settled all our problems within.”

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Fisher To NBPA: “I Will Not Resign”





In-fighting between executive committee members of the NBA players’ union and President Derek Fisher escalated Friday night, with Fisher refusing to resign while urging the league’s 30 players reps to demand review of his performance and the union’s business practices and finances.

All of this would have grabbed far bigger headlines had it occurred six, eight or 12 months ago – before the NBA and the union agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that will run at least through the 2016-17 season. Fisher, executive director Billy Hunter and the eight National Basketball Players Association vice presidents who have lined up behind Hunter in this skirmish were front and center then, with the league in a lockout that lasted five months.

Now it is more of an inside-basketball story that might not grab most fans’ attention. The players involved are mostly back at work on the courts, with the playoffs looming. But the political maneuvering by Hunter – who fended off a call by Fisher for an audit of Hunter’s performance, turning that into an 8-0 vote of non-support for the union president – and Fisher might explain some of the union’s inconsistencies and reversals during the CBA negotiations.

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Rough Season For NBPA Brass

CHICAGO – More than any of their NBA peers, the nine members of the National Basketball Players Association’s executive committee gave the most – in time and effort – toward salvaging this post-lockout season. Everyone dealt with the uncertainty and inactivity of the elongated offseason prior to, finally, this hectic 2011-12 schedule. It’s just that the NBPA exec committee dealt with it in coats and ties, in hotel ballrooms, from morning to night (and sometimes on to morning again), enduring all the rhetoric that took most of five months before it distilled into true negotiating .

Too bad they’re not enjoying it more.

Washington’s Maurice Evans, one of the union VPs, had a rare upbeat night against the Bulls Monday at United Center. He scored 14 points in 26:28 off the bench to help the Wizards bag a road victory, 87-84, over the team with the NBA’s best record. It was just his 19th appearance of the season (his third over the past four weeks) and only the second time he has scored in double figures.

But it has been that way for Evans, a journeyman on a team committed to a) young players and b) lottery position. He has averaged 3.4 points and 11.4 minutes when he has participated, down from 9.7 and 27.4 in 2010-11.

He has company among the union brass. NBPA president Derek Fisher, of course, was traded from his beloved Lakers, then cut loose by Houston before landing nicely with Oklahoma City. Fisher’s stats are off a bit too: 5.5 ppg, 24.4 mpg now, 6.8 and 28.0 then.

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UPDATED: It’s (No) Go Time In NBA Talks

UPDATE, 6:50 p.m.ish ET: How’s this for ominous?

After announcing that the league has canceled all games through Nov. 30 and dashing any hopes of a full 82-game schedule [see post below], Commissioner David Stern says that the NBA’s position will harden from here, given the fact that the league, according to Stern, has lost $200 million by missing out on the preseason and will lose hundreds of millions more with the loss of November games.

“We’re going to have to recalculate how bad the damage is … The NBA’s offer will  necessarily — its next offer — will reflect the extraordinary losses that are starting to pile up now,” Stern said.

“Both sides are very badly damaged. The amount of dollars lost to the owners is extraordinary. And the amount of dollars lost to players under individual contracts is also extraordinary … You can make computations about who’s going to be able to make it back and who’s not going to be able to make it back. I’m not sure that any time in the short run the owners will be able to make it back.

“And I know for a fact that in the short run, the players will not be able to make it back and probably never be able to make it back.”

Stern said that the league was willing to come up to 50 percent in the split of BRI. But “[union head] Billy Hunter said he was not willing to go a penny below 52 [for the players' share], that he had been getting many calls from agents, and then he closed up his book and walked out of the room.”

As close as things seemed late Thursday … they seem as far apart now as they’ve ever been. Now, we have to wonder again about Christmas Day games and, indeed, whether there will be a 2011-12 season at all.

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UPDATE, 6:33 p.m.ish ET: Goodbye November games. Goodbye 82-game schedule.

“Yes. Our games are canceled through Nov. 30,” said Commissioner David Stern. And then he completely, and finally, doused any thoughts that an 82-game schedule still could be squeezed into a time-shortened season.

“It’s not practical, possible or prudent to have a full season now. There will not be a full NBA season under any circumstances,” Stern said.

The league had a 50-game season in 1999. That season didn’t begin until early February. Owners and players did not agree on a new collective bargaining agreement back then until early January.

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UPDATE, 5:53 p.m.ish ET: A thought:

If the owners were negotiating on “system” issues with the understanding that the players would accept 50-50, and the players won’t accept 50-50, does that mean all the work done in the past 30 hours or so on those “system” issues has to be done again?

Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver are expected to talk soon. Watch for it here and on NBA TV.

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UPDATE, 5:48 p.m.ish ET: Sources confirm to TNT’s David Aldridge that the league will cancel regular-season games through the 30th of November.

Steve Aschburner also reports that Derek Fisher is headed back to Los Angeles, which pretty much guarantees no talks this weekend.

And so, any hopes for an 82-game regular season all but go up in flames.

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UPDATE, 5:28 p.m.ish ET: Says Billy Hunter, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association:

“We made a lot of concessions but this time, unfortunately, it’s not enough.”

No word of more meetings scheduled. At this time, cancellations of more games seems almost certain.

Sigh.

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UPDATE:, 5:20 p.m.ish ET: “Today wasn’t the day to try and close this out,” Derek Fisher, the Lakers’ guard and president of the players’ union, tells reporters in the lobby of the hotel where the talks were held.

Fisher said the players are sticking to their desire to claim 52.5 percent of BRI. The owners have said they want a 50-50 split.

The players decided not to meet in a formal interview session, so there was no live coverage on NBA TV. The league is expected to meet formally in a news conference that will be carried live on NBA TV …

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UPDATE, 4:45 p.m.ish ET: ESPN’s Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) is reporting that the talks hit a roadblock when the owners and players couldn’t agree on the BRI split. Owners still at 50-50. Players don’t want to go lower than 52.

Windhorst also tweeting that more cancellations coming …

This is not good.

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UPDATE, 4:43 p.m.ish ET: The New York Times (@HowardBeckNYT) tweets that the talks have ended for the day. Reporters are waiting on a possible news conference.

If there is one, it’ll be here and on NBA TV.

The mood, it is accurate to say, has turned 180 degrees.

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UPDATE, 4:28 p.m.ish ET: Tweets from reporters on scene suggest that talks have ended for the day, with no resolution. Split of revenue again has stalled negotiations.

Hang on …

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UPDATE, 4 p.m.ish ET: Steve Aschburner, the Ansel Adams of NBA.com scribes, points out that the owners and players are not the only unhappy labor campers in New York.

Asch says:

A different type of lockout got attention from a traveling Occupy Wall Street group outside the midtown Manhattan hotel where NBA owners and players met Friday.

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UPDATE, 2 p.m.ish ET: With the NBA’s labor negotiations blowing past the 3 1/2 hour mark Friday — that’s close to 26 hours of yakking since owners and players resumed talks Wednesday at noon — we asked NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner to give us a feel for the mood at the swanky New York hotel he’s been snuggled up in for the past way too many hours.

Asch says:

NEW YORK – Competing values are at work, along with the well-worn backsides of the huddled media folks covering the NBA labor talks, on the lockout’s 120th day.

The level of optimism for a deal was as high as it had been since the dispute began, fueled by the words and tone Thursday evening by NBA commissioner David Stern and union executive director Billy Hunter. “Tomorrow” was mentioned by both, with Stern vowing “one heck of a shot” and Hunter talking of “striking distance” for at least a handshake agreement.

Then again, reporters – and by extension, NBA fans – had been down this road before only to see and hear a few moments of enthusiasm tamped down by “blood” issues and newly entrenched positions. For one thing, there were more people in the room beyond the desirable “small groups” that tend to achieve the most progress in such negotiations. For another, the two sides were determined to address BRI today. That’s the dreaded split of basketball-related revenues that had been avoided since talks broke off Oct. 20, the most heated night of the lockout so far. Thus the forecast: Volatility.

It’s one thing for the bomb squad to pat itself on the back for discovering the device, cordoning off the area and undoing a few screws. It’s something entirely different to finally choose which wire – green or blue – to snip.

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For live updates all day and night, follow: @daldridgetnt | @AschNBA

UPDATE, 12:45 p.m. ET: Now, roughly two hours into the third straight day of labor meetings, representatives for the NBA’s owners and players have been joined by some heavyweights, on both sides.

New Orleans Hornets All-Star point guard Chris Paul, a member of the National Basketball Players Association executive committee, has joined in the talks, along with fellow exec committee member Theo Ratliff of the L.A. Lakers. Also in the room again today is economist Kevin Murphy of the University of Chicago. They’ll sit shoulder-to-shoulder with Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the union’s president, and Billy Hunter, the NBPA’s executive director

Dallas Mavericks owners Mark Cuban, who took part in Thursday’s seven-hour session, came back for Friday’s sit-down, too. He is teaming, according to NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner, with owners Peter Holt (Spurs), Glen Taylor (Timberwolves) and Jim Dolan (Knicks), along with NBA Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver.

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10:45 a.m. ET: The biggest day of the most miserable NBA offseason in years has arrived, with the promise either to send this offseason into new depths of unimaginable miserableness or — and this is the prevailing sentiment — get the league, and its fans, back to the business of basketball.

Key players for the owners and players are meeting yet again in New York in an attempt to fashion a collective bargaining agreement that both sides can live with. After more than seven hours of meetings Thursday, the two sides now are closer than they ever have been in the 120 days of the lockout. Both NBA Commissioner David Stern and National Basketball Players Association head Billy Hunter expressed optimism — as guarded as it might be — that an agreement could be reached this weekend, and maybe as early as Friday.

Both sides caution that much work is left to be done. But a lot of the back-and-forth on “system” issues, including the makeup of a new luxury tax system, was undertaken on Wednesday (during a 15-hour session) and Thursday. On Friday, the two sides are expected to tackle the split of revenue known as Basketball-Related Income.

At stake, immediately, is the survival of an 82-game season, a carrot that has helped each side get down to business this week. It’s still unclear if a full season of games can be pulled off. But both sides are expected to give it their best shots today. The New York Times reported on Friday that the NBA has asked teams to look into arena dates in late April, after the regular season normally has ended. That’s a sign that an 82-game schedule is still a possibility.

For a look at how we got here, check out NBA.com’s labor timeline, and get the whole scoop at Labor Central.

Players ‘STAND’ Together At Labor Talks

NEW YORK – Wearing gray T-shirts over their street clothes that said, “STAND / 2011 NBPA Summer Meeting,” about 50 NBA players arrived in a group, exiting a limousine bus to attend Friday’s negotiating session for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The threat of a lockout looms, with the current CBA set to expire Thursday and the NBA owners and players still far apart after two years of proposals, counter-proposals and wrangling.

“The message is just solidarity, that we have to stand together, we have to be unified and be prepared to address whatever the circumstance is, but address it together,” said Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.

The session that began Friday at 11 a.m. ET was the seventh, small- or big-group, since The Finals began in Miami on May 31. Comments from both sides after the initial meetings focused on positive elements, but more recent reactions – as specifics of the two sides’ proposals have been shared – have turned pessimistic that a compromise can be reached.

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