NBA and players set to meet with mediator

The federal mediator who sat with the NFL and its players during their labor dispute will try to push opposing sides of the NBA lockout closer together in the latest bid to save the season.

George Cohen, who serves as director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and was an early staple of NFL negotiations, is set to meet with both sides in the NBA labor dispute on Tuesday.

Cohen reportedly met separately with league officials and players on Monday, a week after the NBA canceled the first two weeks of the regular season in its first loss of games since 1998-99, when the schedule was reduced to 50 games because of a work stoppage.

The failure to reach a new collective bargaining agreement has so far cost the league a total of 100 games. But NBA commissioner David Stern said last week that an unsuccessful mediation session on Tuesday could put the entire season in jeopardy -- or at least the games through the popular Christmas schedule.

"If there is a breakthrough it is going to come on Tuesday," Stern said in an interview with NBA TV on Thursday. "If not, I think that the season is really going to potentially escape from us."

Stern also said he believes the owners are ready to sit down and make a deal, while the players are not.

"Hopefully by Tuesday, aided by the mediator, they'll be ready to make a deal and certainly I'll bring my owners ready to make a deal," said Stern.

The NBA Board of Governors is set to meet on Wednesday and Thursday.

Union head Billy Hunter said on the radio last week that it was Stern's plan to have a lockout from the beginning, claiming that's what the commissioner promised him three years ago.

"That was their plan all along," he said on WFAN-AM.

Among the biggest wrinkles separating the sides that Cohen will try to iron down Tuesday is a disagreement on the split of basketball-related income. They are also at odds over a hard salary cap, which the players oppose.

Besides the NFL, Cohen has also mediated disputes between Major League Soccer and the MLS players union, the Metropolitan Opera and orchestra musicians, the Federal Aviation Administration and the air traffic controllers union and the American Red Cross and a national coalition of labor unions, according to his official FMCS biography.

The NBA lockout began July 1 after the most recent labor deal between the sides expired.

Unlike the labor issues that caused the NFL lockout -- which long appeared to be solvable -- the problems facing the NBA have led observers to warn about a prolonged dispute similar to the one that led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 NHL season.