Report: NBA owners, players reach out to 1999 dealmaker

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You don’t know who Jim Quinn is, but he might be the one guy who can save an NBA season.

He’s done it before.

For two decades Quinn sat in Billy Hunter’s seat as director of the players union (well, Hunter’s old seat, there is no union any more, just a trade association since the “disclaimer of interest”). But he is a guy that the key players on both sides know and trust.

And he’s the guy who helped broker the deal the last time the NBA found itself losing games to a lockout, in the 1998-99 season.

Both sides have reached out to Quinn in recent days, reports Ken Berger at CBSSports.com.

Reached by CBSSports.com Tuesday at the offices of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, where he is a partner and chairman of the global litigation team, Quinn confirmed he has spoken with both Stern and NBPA director Billy Hunter since the collective bargaining process broke down and the union disclaimed — leading to multiple antitrust lawsuits.

Quinn characterized the conversations as “touchy-feely” and “off-the-record,” and said they have occurred “in the past number of days….

“I’ve always said that I’ll be helpful in any way I can be,” Quinn said. “Everyone would like to see that there is a season, so sure, I’d be helpful.”

Both owners and players have talked about the desire to make a deal — everyone gets the urgency. Everyone wants basketball back. And there is a sense that someone else needs to be in the room to get a deal done — federal mediator George Cohen seemed to move the sides somewhat toward some middle ground, but could not get them close enough in the end.

Maybe Quinn can be that guy. Maybe it will be another mediator. But a reasoned voice from the outside that guides the talks.

As a source close to the talks told ProBasketballTalk, there is growing pressure on both sides to make a deal. They are running out of time and a lost season would mean $2 billion in lost salaries to the players and about that much in lost revenue for the owners (under much more favorable labor terms). They realize the momentum the league built up is slipping away, and to allow the players case to slide toward summary judgment carries big risks for both sides.

Nobody wants that. Everyone would love to see NBA basketball on Christmas, but since it takes about 30 days from a handshake deal to the first games, so there isn’t much time. That is only going to happen if someone like Quinn can broker a deal. Fast. And even that may not be enough.