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Sports

More optimism from Stern, Hunter

| Sunday, Feb. 20, 2005

DENVER -- Asked to name the specific areas where they've made progress on a new collective bargaining agreement, NBA commissioner David Stern and union director Billy Hunter pursed their lips and slowly turned toward each other.

Neither man came up with an answer.

More public optimism was dished out Saturday at Stern's annual All-Star news conference, but little detail disclosed about what kind of progress -- if any -- has been made in negotiating sessions thus far.

The league's seven-year labor agreement expires at the end of June, and the two sides have agreed to meet several times in the upcoming weeks in an effort to narrow their differences.

"I may be combining reality with hope, but I think there will be a deal by the end of the season," Stern said.

But both sides have said the differences that remain are substantial, and Hunter has gone so far as to describe some of the owners' demands as "repugnant" in meetings with his membership.

Among the items the owners and players differ on are the league's desire to raise the minimum age from 18 to 20, the use of the NBDL as a minor league to which young NBA players could be assigned and the percentage of overall league revenues that will be devoted to player salaries.

Stern indicated the sides have jumped from issue to issue, making more progress on some topics than others.

"You sort of move pieces around and see how it feels and whether the collective bargaining bouillabaisse that you've created tastes better than you thought it might," Stern said.

The commissioner also addressed a number of other issues, although collective bargaining was the dominant theme of the 45-minute news conference.

Stern said the National Basketball Development League plans to expand into the southwestern United States and add four new teams next season, and he would like to see the league eventually expand into larger cities.

Stern also addressed speculation over whether he might reduce the season-long suspension he handed down to Ron Artest of Indiana for his role in a brawl with fans at a Nov. 19 Pacers-Pistons game.

"I don't anticipate there will be an application for reinstatement, and I'm not thinking about the subject now, period," he said.

Deputy commissioner Russ Granik said there would likely be no rules changes for the 2005-06 season, the league generally is pleased with the flow of the game and the trend toward higher-scoring games.

Stern also said the league would set records for attendance, gate receipts and local television revenue this season.

"Business is better than ever," he said.

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