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Posted: Thursday September 17, 2009 1:15AM; Updated: Thursday September 17, 2009 1:19AM

Referees reject proposal, still hopeful of deal

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NEW YORK (AP) -- NBA referees have voted unanimously against the NBA's latest contract proposal, but remain hopeful a deal can be reached in time to avoid a lockout.

The contract between the league and its officials expired Sept. 1 and negotiations toward a new deal broke down last week after commissioner David Stern abruptly halted a meeting in New York. The NBA made another proposal Wednesday, and referees association spokesman Lamell McMorris said his side hoped to offer a counterproposal Thursday.

All 57 active referees met in Chicago, and McMorris said they planned to continue discussions late into the night.

"I think it's a tremendous sign of unity and also willingness to get a deal done, that rather than going to jump on planes they're still in a conference room," McMorris said about midnight EDT, following seven hours of meetings. "None of them are going home."

No further sessions between the NBA and the referees were planned after last week's impasse, when McMorris criticized Stern for his behavior. But McMorris said some discussions have been ongoing, and the league's decision to make an offer Wednesday was a "pleasant surprise."

Both sides are hoping to reach an agreement in time to prevent replacement officials from working the first preseason game on Oct. 1. McMorris said there's even a possibility the refs could have a deal in time for their training camp, scheduled to begin Sunday.

"I'm hopeful from what our group has demonstrated. The league has to meet us kind of halfway," McMorris said. "I don't know what more of a sign we can show and demonstrate than the fact these folks are not leaving Chicago in hopes that we can get a deal done."

The NBA is seeking cuts in areas such as the referees' retirement benefits, travel budget and their per diems. McMorris said the officials, recognizing the financial difficulties the league is facing, already agreed to $2.5 million in reductions and were willing to agree to a two-year deal in which their salaries would be frozen for the first year.

The league last began a season without its regular officials in 1995, and failure to reach a deal soon could lead to NBA Development League referees calling games next month. Neither side sounded optimistic last week, but McMorris' tone had changed by late Wednesday night.

"We're going to try to get on the phone and open up negotiations. All 57 every active referees are locking ourselves in in an effort to get a deal done," he said. "I'm just very proud of these folks. They're willing to stand up for what they believe they're worth, recognizing the climate that they're under."

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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