Both Yahoo and ESPN are reporting that a large group of NBA players convened with several prominent player agents and a top antitrust attorney about decertifying the union on a Thursday conference call. If true, this sets up the potential for major drama concerning the scheduled labor negotiating meeting set for Saturday.
Talks between the league and player’s union blew up last Friday over the split of the Basketball Related Revenue (BRI) and other system issues regarding the penalties for teams that go over the league’s luxury tax threshhold, only a day after the two sides seemingly agreed on the framework of a deal.
The blood issue between both sides, however, remains on the BRI split. The owners have publicly stated that they won’t go over a 50/50 split, while the players have vowed not to go below 52 percent.
Since the NBA’s last lockout in 1998, the players’ salaries have been 57 percent of the league’s revenue, with the NBA receiving the other 43 percent (plus a few hundred million taken off the top before the split actually occurs). The 1999 collective bargaining agreement expired in 2005 and was ratified just before the June 30 deadline, preventing the league’s second lockout in six years.
Between 2005 and 2011, the NBA claimed losses in the billions and Commissioner David Stern began stating, not so subtly, that he and his owners were coming for blood when the CBA expired in June.
*cues up “The Sopranos” theme song*
And for blood they came. The league’s initial offer only gave the players union 37 percent of the BRI, a hard cap of $48 million, the elimination of guaranteed contracts, and the possible rollback of already signed contracts. (Note: Yikes)
The threat of decertification (the procedure under which employees of an union can disassociate themselves from said union or withdraw a union’s official recognition as the exclusive bargaining representative of a firm’s employees, according to the Business Dictionary) first was brought up in May, before the CBA expired in the summer, when the players union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in order to prevent the lockout from occurring in the first place. That case has predictably been delayed and delayed and stands little to no chance of making an impact on labor negotiations.
That’s why it’s very interesting that some of the players and agents have chosen November of all times to up the ante on the decertification threat.
A few thoughts on decertification: One, decertifying dissolves the players union (and absolves longtime executive director Billy Hunter of his crown, something top agents have been priming for) and allows the players to sue the NBA for antitrust violations (basically saying the Association is refusing to let the players earn a living by doing the job they are contractually paid for) and puts the fate of the lockout’s end in the hands of the courts, which would take months to resolve.
Which brings me to my next point: decertifying almost certainly kills the 2011-2012 NBA season dead. Between back and forth arguments and lawsuits and countersuits, let’s just say it can only get worse from that point on.
Decertification also creates one mess of a 2012-13 season, with fans presumably bitter at both sides and a shake up of leadership sure to follow. The owners have also requested permission from the NLRB to void all player contracts if the players decertify. This, however, is the emptiest of threats, as voiding all deals essentially makes every player a free agent. (LEBRON TO THE ROCKETS!!)
But decertification, while a nuclear option, still requires 30 percent of player votes and could be squelched after a productive labor meeting on Saturday. What’s sad is I wouldn’t hold my breath on either happening at this point.