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The 2½-hour meeting included Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt, National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter and NBPA president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers. Union executives did not have an immediate response to Stern’s comments.

Although many sports fans celebrated the return of the NFL with the end of their lockout last week, Stern drew a dreary conclusion.

“From where we sit, we’re looking at a league that was the most profitable in sports that became more profitable by virtue of concessions from their players, and with an average salary of $2 million,” Stern said of the NFL on Monday. “Our average salary is $5 million. We’re not profitable, and we just can’t seem to get over the gap that separates us.”

In the first labor session with key negotiators from the NBA and players union since the lockout began July 1, no progress was made.

But Stern’s bleak comments, with uncharacteristic digs at the players’ bargaining tactics, temporarily changed the tenor of negotiations.

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“It’s fair to say we’re at the same place as we were 30 days ago, and we agreed we’d be in touch to schedule some additional meetings,” Stern said.

The league’s last proposal pledged to target $2 billion in player salaries ( $2.176 billion in 2010-11) for each of the next six years so owners could attempt to be profitable. Owners say they have lost $640 million in the past two seasons, at with 22 of 30 clubs expected to show losses from last season.

The last proposal from the union pledged 54.3% of basketball-related income to players and 45.7% to owners, with slight increases for the players near the end of the six-year deal.

National Basketball Players Association president and Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher said the best result of Monday’s meeting was “re-starting this process. … Begin conversations again.”

What would give Stern encouragement at this point?

“Nothing,” he said.

Fisher said Stern and the owners are “articulating certain things in the room, expressing their desire to get a deal done. But where their proposal lies makes it hard to believe that.”

Stern’s take: ” I don’t feel optimistic about the players’ willingness to engage in a serious way.”

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