NBA commissioner David Stern and National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter have been meeting face-to-face to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, sources close to the talks told ESPN.com on Tuesday.
The sources said the sides met last week in Chicago with staffers from both sides present. The two sides are also set to talk this week in New York, according to the sources.
The existing CBA expires June 30, after which, absent a new deal, NBA owner have promised to lock out the players.
Hunter and Stern negotiated deals in 1999 and 2005. In past negotiations between the two, face-to-face talks have not always led to significant progress, but there has never been big progress without such high-level meetings.
Against a backdrop of labor strife and ongoing legal action in the NFL, representatives of the NBA and the players' association have recently softened their public rhetoric.
Union officials have called the NFL players' tactic of taking the argument to the courts a last resort, while the league has made clear they are open to input from the union.
Stern's deputy, Adam Silver, said on April 15 that the league's goal is "a system in which all 30 teams can compete, and, if they are well-managed, to make a profit. We have never suggested to the union that there's only one way to accomplish that end."
The league delivered the players an updated proposal last week, but the deal was declined.
"Unfortunately, the proposal is very similar to the proposal the league submitted over a year ago," union president Derek Fisher told ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan and Chris Broussard. "This last proposal doesn't look close to what we were expecting."
The league has been seeking $800 million in additional annual revenue from the players, as well as a hard salary cap.
The union has argued for a revenue deal similar to the current one, while rejecting the idea of a hard cap. Hunter says a hard salary cap would effectively end guaranteed contracts which he calls "the lifeblood" of professional basketball.
"We've had that right for years, and it's not something we're trying to give up," Hunter told ESPN.com on May 21.
Both sides agree that TV ratings have been strong this season, and the league recently announced that 2010-2011 ticket sales were up roughly one percent. The players' association says the league's recent surge in popularity may have wiped out the losses that came with the recession. The league says the strong season has improved the bottom line, to a $300 million loss compared to $340 million a year ago, adding that 22 of 30 teams are losing money.
Henry Abbott is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.