The NBA commissioner wouldn't give any hints about what that means for hopes of ending the lockout.
"I would not read into this optimism or pessimism," he said. "We're not failing. We're not succeeding. We're just there."
Players and owners met for more than 12 hours on the 132nd day of the lockout, an important one after Stern warned that if players didn't agree to the league's latest proposal by the end of the business day, a far worse one would be coming.
Instead, he "stopped the clock" and said the backup offer would only go into play if this round of bargaining breaks down.
As usual, neither side offered many specifics, though union executive director Billy Hunter said the sides never got around to discussing the split of basketball-related income.
Besides that, there are still a handful of issues related to the salary cap system that players want addressed before they might agree to the league's demands for a 50-50 split of revenues.
"I can't characterize whether they showed flexibility or not in certain system issues," union president Derek Fisher said. "Obviously, we'd have a deal done if the right flexibility was being shown. The fact that we don't have a deal lets you know that there's still a lot of work to be done on the system."
The parties plan to return at noon Thursday to resume talks.
"We can't say there was significant progress today," Fisher said. "We'll be back tomorrow ... and we'll see if we can continue to make the efforts at least to finish this out."
Stern had set a 5 p.m. ET deadline for players to accept the league's latest proposal or have it replaced by a much harsher one that would drive the sides even farther apart.
He said the offer was not pulled at that time because the league was "trying to demonstrate our good faith. Stern added that the understanding was the offer potentially would be pulled at the end of this series of negotiations, whenever that might be.
Failure to make a deal likely would increase the calls for the union to decertify so the players can file a lawsuit against the league in court, a risky and lengthy tactic that likely would doom the 2011-12 season. Union officials have downplayed the idea, but players might have no other leverage once the more severe proposal is put into play.
The current offer calls for players to receive between 49 percent and 51 percent of basketball-related income, though the union said it would be impossible to get above 50.2 percent. Players were guaranteed 57 percent of BRI under the previous collective bargaining agreement.
Though they called this deal unacceptable, they might not see another one nearly as favorable.
The next proposal would call for a 53-47 revenue split in the owners' favor, essentially a hard salary cap and salary rollbacks, which the league originally sought but had taken off the table. Both proposals were sent to Hunter on Sunday.
Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver were joined Wednesday by Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the labor relations committee, and lawyers Rick Buchanan and Dan Rube. Besides Hunter and Fisher, vice presidents Roger Mason Jr. and Maurice Evans, economist Kevin Murphy and attorney Jeffrey Kessler represented the union.
Kessler took part just hours after saying he regretted telling the Washington Post that owners are treating players like "plantation workers" during the ongoing lockout. He said he planned to call Stern and apologize.
Besides the revenue split, the sides still are divided on elements of the salary cap system, mostly relating to the spending rules for teams that are over the luxury tax level. Players want those teams to remain options for free agents, whereas the league thinks talent would be more evenly distributed throughout the league if payrolls were more balanced.
Players indicated after their meeting Tuesday that they would be open to reducing their BRI take if owners made some changes on the system issues. Players offered to go to about 51 percent Saturday, with 1 percent going into a fund for retired player benefits.
But the league has placed as much importance on the system as the split, making it difficult to find compromise on the handful of items that remain unsettled. Owners believe there won't be the competitive balance they desire until payrolls are more equally balanced.
A month of games already has been canceled. Hunter said Tuesday he had heard Stern also planned to cancel games through Christmas without a deal Wednesday, though Stern later told NBA TV that "we have made no such plans, and we have had no such discussions."