Not much to celebrate

NBA and union negotiators met for hours on Thursday.

The league has very nice offices with big meeting rooms, but they don't meet there. The union also has very nice offices with big meeting rooms, but the two sides don't hold big meetings there, either.

There are a lot of power dynamics in negotiations. Neutral turf matters.

So they rent conference rooms at various hotels in midtown New York. These might count as neutral turf, even though these rooms are almost always an easy walking distance from league headquarters and never all that close to the union's offices in Harlem.

Be interested to know who picks up the check.

Likely to throw off the media, the meeting locations move around. This hotel for a couple of days, then that one.

At most hotels, the uninvited media (typical greeting from NBA staffers: "It amazes me how you people manage to ferret us out") pass the time in the lobbies, doing what we can to make sure we don't miss the big moment. The only break in the watch comes from furtive runs around the corner for more coffee, fast food or the bathroom. If you step away to take a phone call, you don't step far.

At one or two of the hotels, however, there is not room inside for the dozen or so reporters, so they are asked to wait outside, on the street, as was the case Thursday.

It was the muggiest of days. The job of waiting was sweaty. The only nearby bathroom was in a crowded and swanky French restaurant. The neighborhood being among the most expensive in the world, haute couture boutiques were plentiful but reporter-grade fast food was ... too far to walk. (For lunch I had a nine-dollar sandwich roughly the size of a Snickers bar -- and not a King-sized.)

From the media perspective, the best lobbies have wireless and power outlets. This waiting area had nowhere to sit and the threat of rain.

By the time the meeting was over, there was a palpable sense of reporters needing ... something. This day of killing time must come to fruition. Give us some news!

Instead NBA commissioner David Stern emerged playing a new parlor game of his own invention: coming up with as many different ways as he could to express the idea that he would not say anything.

  • "I have no announcement to make today."

  • "We're not going to draw any conclusions."

  • "Having these conversations with [the media] doesn't add anything."

What was so odd about this point, was that he'd say something like that, and then keep standing there, ready to take another question.

Derek Fisher, Players Association president, took a similar tactic. He emerged a few minutes later to say the two sides had covered no new ground on Thursday, while speaking so softly it was almost impossible to hear him standing just a couple of feet away.

"Obviously we're not announcing a deal right now," Fisher said. "We met for a few hours, covered a lot of things. We'll meet again next week, hopefully early in the week ... we'll keep working."

The mood was downcast. There was no deal. There was no news. There was no payoff.

It was, however, Stern's birthday, which was as good as anything to talk about. Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver (who had cocked an eyebrow, in apparent alarm, when Stern opened the conversation with a series of promises to say nothing) reminded reporters of that almost as an act of conversational mercy. (David Aldridge's wit to Stern: "You don't look a day over ... whatever age you are.")

Stern acknowledged there had been cake, and awkwardly accepted a birthday card.

There were concerns about the mood -- was that a sign of trouble? Was the commissioner feeling as down as he appeared? "My demeanor," he clarified, "is flat -- because I don't have anything to say. I told them I wouldn't say anything. I told you I wouldn't say anything. I don't want to say anything."

And then, in a classic bit of Stern sass, he added through a stage grin: "If you'd like me to smile, I'm happy to smile."

Then he mustered something vaguely positive about, well, not the content of talks with the union, but of their sincerity: "We're getting on fine as a personal matter. We each have clients to represent. We each say and believe that we're doing the best for our clients in trying to make a fair deal. Both sides have work to do and we'll let you know how that works."