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TUESDAY IS D-DAY FOR NBA UNION

When the NBA and its players union sit down for labor talks, they will be facing a deadline.

However, the rift among the players is as deep as ever, lessening the chance of any deal being approved by the union's contentious membership.Union chief Simon Gourdine and president Buck Williams said Wednesday they would agree to dissolve the union if a new labor deal isn't reached by Tuesday. But New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing, the most vocal opponent of union leadership, blasted them for holding the talks at all.

In a fax sent by 16 players to the membership, Ewing and other backers of decertification urged players to reject any deal reached by union leadership.

"You should know that even if the owners accepted everything Simon asked for, it would still be a terrible deal for the players," the letter said. "We can't trust Simon to keep making deals with owners."

At the bottom of the letter was a handwritten plea from Ewing: "Let's fight the owners, not one another."

Ewing and other players, including Michael Jordan, are pushing for the union to decertify, a move Gourdine and Williams opposed until Wednesday. NBA players are to vote on the union's continued existence later this month or early next month.

"I've always said it (decertification) remains an option, but a final option," Gourdine said. "The dispute between us and the dissidents is the timing of it and the priority."

Gourdine said despite what appears to be overwhelming opposition, he will still pursue a deal he thinks he can sell to players.

At issue in the labor negotiations is the elimination of a proposed luxury tax, a provision that was included in an early agreement the players rejected.

NBA commissioner David Stern also remained optimistic a deal could still be worked out.

"We told the union some time ago that we're not married to a luxury tax, we're married to a financial deal that makes sense," he said.