The start of the NBA season is almost certain to be delayed for the first time in history, with labor talks unable to resume until Oct. 8.

The NBA today confirmed the date for new collective bargaining negotiations aimed at ending a lockout that begins its fourth month Thursday.The development comes two days after a previously undisclosed one-hour meeting among commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Russ Granik, union director Billy Hunter and union president Patrick Ewing.

The league wanted a bargaining session as soon as Thursday, but the union said nothing could be scheduled until Oct. 8 because of earlier commitments, Granik said.

"I was bowled over to hear that we can't meet for nine days while Rome is burning," Granik told the Philadelphia Daily News.

Granik was not in his office today. Hunter, who was in Houston on Tuesday, did not return messages.

The regular season is scheduled to begin Nov. 3, and at least three weeks would be needed after an agreement is reached to sign players, make trades and hold abbreviated training camps.

So unless a deal can be completed within a day or two after the sides reconvene, there appears to be no way the season can start on time.

The league already has announced an indefinite postponement of training camps and has canceled 25 exhibition games. The remainder of the preseason could be scrapped this week.

The league, which locked out the players July 1, is seeking a labor system that includes a definitive ceiling on team payrolls, or a "hard" salary cap. The union insists it will not accept such a deal.

Only one formal bargaining session was held during the summer, and the meeting ended abruptly when the owners walked out upon hearing the players' latest proposal.

The league sent the union a new proposal last week, which the union dismissed as being almost identical to the owners' previous offer in May. Players have made two proposals, one in April and one in August.

Both sides await a ruling from arbitrator John Feerick on the union's grievance over whether players with guaranteed contracts for this season should be paid during the lockout. Feerick's decision could come at any time before Oct. 19.

League officials suspect the union is stalling in hopes that a victory in the grievance will give provide leverage in negotiations.