- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

WNBA management and players negotiated deep into last night on a new labor deal, trying to avoid triggering a deadline of today in which the 2003 season would be canceled without an agreement.
Neither side would comment on specifics, but the length of yesterday's talks more than 10 hours suggested a deal could be within reach. NBA commissioner David Stern last week issued a deadline that it is believed will go into force at the end of business today.
"They're still talking," spokeswoman Traci Cook said. "There won't be an update until [today]."
Far from an ordinary labor negotiation, the league's very survival hangs in the balance. With an already fragile fan base and tens of millions in accrued losses since the league's 1997 origin, it is far from certain that the WNBA would re-emerge should the 2003 season be called off.
The league wants a five-year labor deal calling for a hard, league-wide salary cap of $8.6million, a modest bump in veteran minimum salaries from $40,000 to $41,200 and a reduction in rookie minimum salaries from $30,000 to $25,000.
The union is seeking a league-wide salary cap of at least $9.5million, a veteran minimum of $48,000 and a rookie minimum of $33,000. Players also prefer a shorter term for a new deal, ideally three years.
Divisions also remain over free agency rights, one of the union's chief goals in these negotiations. No such rights currently exist, and WNBA players want restricted free agency rights after four years in the league and unrestricted rights after five years. The league is offering restricted and unrestricted free agency rights after seven and 10 years, respectively.
"I think the other side is learning daily about money issues, and this may not have been as easy a putt as they thought it would be," Stern told ESPN Radio yesterday.
All league operations remain on hold while the talks continue.

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