- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - David Stern calls himself an optimist and considers his owners and players realists.

So despite the economic turmoil, the NBA commissioner remains confident the two sides will work together this summer during talks for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The central issue, according to Stern, will be division of revenue _ the players now get 57 percent.

“As I watch other industries around us, one thing is common. Everyone has to make sort of a contribution to business and the like,” Stern said Monday. “Our fans are increasingly hard-pressed. We’re making certain concessions that will actually decrease revenue in some ways.

“The point that I take from all this is that we are all in this together and the players are also in it as we are, so I’m still maintaining an optimistic posture because I know that our players believe that. I know our owners believe it and I know our fans are looking for us to step up together to do what has to be done.”

Stern spoke during his annual playoffs conference call, when he said competitive postseason races, plus strong TV ratings and attendance figures have made this a good season for the league.

Future seasons could be a bit gloomier _ or perhaps wiped out entirely.

The CBA runs through the 2010-11 season, though the owners have the option to extend it an additional year. Partly because of the uncertain economy, Stern and players’ association director Billy Hunter have already had informal talks about reopening the agreement.

Stern said those talks will pick up after the NBA finals in June. The owners will put together a negotiating committee after their meetings in New York this week and the players will soon do the same. In the meantime, Stern said the league has begun gathering financial documents.

“There will be no question about the financial fact of life in the NBA and we’ll all be looking at the same picture as we begin this process,” Stern said.

Despite Stern’s optimism, there has already been plenty of reason for concern. There’s been speculation that the owners will take a hard line on everything from lengths of contracts to minimum salaries, and would even be willing to lock out the players as they did at the start of the 1998-99 season until they find a more preferable system.

“The big question is what’s the appropriate divide between players and owners in terms of the division of revenues?” Stern said. “What’s fair for the players to make in terms of a percentage of revenue and the owners in order to have some return on their investment in these great franchises. I anticipate a balanced approach in that respect.”

Stern insists that players are aware of the financial turbulence and understand they may have to give ground.

“They absolutely see our fans, their families, our neighbors,” he said. “They watch the same reports that you and I do. They’re finely attuned to what’s going on, both in America and around the world.”

(This version CORRECTS Corrects to ‘finely’ sted ‘finally’ in last sentence. Moving on financial and sports services.)

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