Players express solidarity as NBA lockout drags on

For the NBA and its players, it's starting to feel an awful lot like 1998.

That year, the league locked out the players, and with no agreement in sight, the players huddled at Caesars Palace to display their solidarity.

On Thursday, about 40 players met with their union's leadership at the Vdara and came out of the meeting as one. And with training camps set to open in about two weeks, the reality is the current lockout, in its third month, could delay the start of the 2011-12 season.

"If it ends tomorrow, if it ends a year from now, we're together," NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher said after the three-hour meeting. "The one thing to come out of this meeting is the players are not divided."

In 1998-99, the season didn't begin until January, and it was 50 games instead of the usual 82. NBAPA executive director Billy Hunter was there then, and he remembers the Caesars meeting that October where virtually the entire membership attended, including superstars Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and David Robinson. On Thursday, there was no sign of LeBron James or Kobe Bryant at the Vdara.

"The difference is this meeting is well ahead of that one," Hunter said. "That meeting was closer to the start of the season. But there's starting to be that sense of urgency that there was the last time. Guys are used to preparing to go to camp, and they needed to know what's going on."

Talks between the two sides ended abruptly Tuesday with Fisher claiming the owners were divided on presenting a new proposal to the bargaining table. At the same time, there was talk being circulated that the union was planning to decertify, with several agents behind the move.

Fisher sent out a letter to the membership urging it to stick together, and while decertification was a topic of discussion Thursday, it wasn't up for a vote.

"We had a very colorful and engaging meeting," Fisher said. "But at the end of the day, we came out as confident and together as we've been throughout this entire process."

For the players who attended, they know it could be awhile before they return to work, as no new talks have been scheduled.

"Everyone's frustrated," said Louis Amundson, a former UNLV forward who plays for Golden State. "But I'm prepared for the long haul financially."

Said Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley: "We knew this day was going to happen. I've been preparing for this for two years. But for some of the younger guys, I think there was a sense of urgency to get some answers."

Boston Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal remembers 1998. He's hoping history doesn't repeat itself.

"We want it over as soon as possible," he said. "I saw how long it took the game to recover the last time we went through this, and I don't think either side wants to go through that again."

But Hunter fears that's exactly where things are headed.

"It seems to be a little more tense this time than back in 1998," he said. "It's more contentious this time. People are pretty much dug in. But there's still time to get a deal done."

If not, there could be another meeting next month at the Vdara. Only with 10 times as many players as there were Thursday.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

NBA, referees approve new five-year contract
NEW YORK -- The NBA and its referees approved a new five-year deal Thursday, two years after a contract dispute nearly caused the league to open the season with replacements.

A person familiar with the negotiations said the referees voted on the deal last week. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because those details were confidential.

Owners ratified it at their meeting in Dallas on Thursday, and terms of the contract were not disclosed.

"We did not get everything we wanted, but given the current economic climate and the continuing players' lockout, we are satisfied that this deal was in the best interests of our members," National Basketball Referees Association general counsel Lee Seham said in a statement.