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Owners, union to meet with mediator

The NBA's owners and locked-out players will meet with a federal mediator in hopes of resolving their deadlock and saving the 2010-11 regular season, which has already lost two weeks.

Union executive director Billy Hunter said Wednesday in an interview on WFAN-AM in New York that the union had agreed to meet with a mediator.

George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, told The Associated Press he will oversee negotiations between the sides starting Tuesday in New York.

In a text message, NBA spokesman Tim Frank said, "We are working on scheduling a meeting for early next week," USA Today reported.

Earlier Wednesday, Hunter told WFAN that the meetings with the mediator would begin Monday. But later in the day, an NBA source directly involved with the talks told ESPN.com TrueHoop's Henry Abbott that the meetings would start Tuesday.

Hunter is expected to meet with NBA players Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard.

Cohen said he already has been in contact with representatives of both sides "for a number of months."

"I have participated in separate, informal, off-the-record discussions with the principals representing the NBA and the NBPA concerning the status of their collective bargaining negotiations," Cohen said in a statement issued by the Washington-based FMCS.

"It is evident that the ongoing dispute will result in a serious impact, not only upon the parties directly involved, but also, of major concern, on interstate commerce -- i.e., the employers and working men and women who provide services related to the basketball games, and, more generally, on the economy of every city in which those games are scheduled to be played."

Cohen isn't the only federal employee with an eye on the lockout.

At a fundraiser in Orlando on Tuesday, President Barack Obama, well-known for his love of basketball, said he'd like to see the deadlock resolved and the league back to playing games.

"The reason I came here is because I'm trying to resolve the NBA lockout," Obama joked as he began his remarks. "So I don't know who I need to talk to. ... I don't know if you've got some clout or who it is, but we need our basketball."

"I had the chance to see Dwight Howard, and Dwight is a great friend, and I told him I'm a little heartbroken that the NBA season is getting delayed here," Obama said. "So I'm hoping those guys are back on the court soon."

After more than 12 hours of negotiations with the NBA Sunday and Monday proved fruitless, Hunter wants to begin meeting face-to-face with groups of players to explain the details of where the league and the union stand, sources said.

Hunter had planned to meet with players in Los Angeles on Monday, but postponed that trip in a last-ditch effort to find compromise with NBA commissioner David Stern.

That compromise did not take place, and Stern announced the first two weeks of the regular season, which was to have begun Nov. 1, would be canceled. The league has already canceled training camps and its entire preseason schedule.

Cohen was present for talks between NFL owners and players for 16 days in February and March but couldn't bring them to agreement. When that mediation broke off March 11, the union disbanded, players sued owners in federal court, and the league locked out players.

After negotiations resumed later -- including with a different, court-appointed mediator -- a new NFL collective bargaining agreement was completed and signed in August.

Cohen was appointed director of the FMCS, an independent U.S. government agency, by Obama in 2009. The next year, Cohen helped broker a deal between Major League Soccer and its players just before the season was scheduled to begin, earning kudos from both the commissioner and players' union.

As a labor lawyer, Cohen played a key role in ending the most notorious professional sports work stoppage in U.S. history, the baseball strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series. In 1995, as lead lawyer for the baseball players' union, he helped win an injunction against the sport's owners from U.S. District Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor -- who is now a Supreme Court justice -- ending the 7½-month strike.

ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, ESPN.com TrueHoop writer Henry Abbott and The Associated Press contributed to this report.