"We know there's going to be a deal -- the question is how much harm, if any, will be done [en route]," he said.
Tough bargaining remains. Stern said the two sides are talking, but still apart as they negotiate a new contract that threatens to shut down the league with a lockout reminiscent of the 1998-99 season.
"I wouldn't say that we have made any great progress on narrowing the differences between us," he said, while speaking to a room crowded with advertisers.
Marketers have multiple concerns about the potential for lost games, due to labor issues in both the NBA and NFL next season. Either would leave them without some of the most-watched programming to advertise in. Some need to make contingency plans regarding in-store or on-package promotions that could affect a distribution process.
The current NBA labor agreement expires June 30 and the owners claim they are losing money and want to cut the amount of revenues the players collect. In 1998-99, a lockout shortened the season from 82 to 50 games, and it did not begin until February.
Stern said the league has shared its financials with the union as evidence of its escalating costs. The union has quibbled with some of them, but he said that "nevertheless, the numbers are ultimately a loss for the NBA and its teams."
He said he wants to get to a point where both sides accept the validity of the figures and start there.
"We may want to argue about their meaning, but not about [their] fact," he said at the ANA annual TV and video forum. Stern said he was pleased with the ratings for NBA broadcasts, but remains blown away by the popularity of the NFL: "It's quite simply the most important programming in the history of America."