The NBA's doors are closer than ever to being unlocked.
Yahoo! Sports reported that representatives for league owners and players are scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday in New York for a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) conference.
The last-minute session, which will reportedly be a small-group meeting involving key negotiators, could produce a CBA that ends the 132-day lockout and finally starts the stalled 2011-12 season.
The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) was granted the unexpected meeting after Tuesday calling NBA Commissioner David Stern's bluff.
When CBA talks broke down last Sunday, Stern said the NBPA had until 5 p.m. Wednesday to accept a deal that includes a 49-51 band on basketball-related income (BRI) and several system-related issues favoring owners.
The NBPA said Tuesday it would not accept the deal, and instead wanted to meet with owners one more time before the deadline.
"Let's not blow up the season," NBPA executive director Billy Hunter said. "Let's not lose any more games."
Stern said during an interview Tuesday with NBA TV a pre-deadline meeting was unlikely to happen unless the NBA's Labor Relations Committee first gave him approval.
"As of Sunday at 3 in the morning, there was [no wiggle room] left," Stern said.
He also again said owners would retract their current offer after the deadline and replace it with a much stricter deal, highlighted by a 53-47 BRI split favoring teams and the rollback of guaranteed contracts.
The union is willing to accept a 50-50 divide if the league makes further concessions on system issues.
"I'm convinced the [NBA] will come back and do a 50-50 deal," Hunter said.
If that happens and owners concede system issues such as player movement restrictions and luxury tax penalties expected to aid small-market teams, a bitter NBA lockout could end sooner than many expected.
Brian T. Smith