Oct 3, 2011, 7:00 PM EDT
Top NBA agents may be throwing a monkey wrench into the NBA labor negotiations on the eve of the biggest day of negotiations.
Six of the top NBA agents — who are no fan of union chief Billy Hunter and have been worried the union is giving up too much in negotiations — sent a letter to their clients Monday urging them to demand a full vote and reject any labor deal that gives up any further percentage points on basketball related income (BRI), reports Ric Bucher at ESPN.
The letter advises the players not to ratify any deal that includes a reduction in basketball-related income beyond the 57 percent or any other systematic changes from the last collective bargaining agreement, which expired July 1.
The letter sent Monday by the agents does not mention decertification, nor does it suggest that their clients break from the union. It simply — but pointedly — advises them to request ample time to review any labor deal the union might present for ratification and to demand that the entire union membership be given the chance to vote on it.
Other reports suggest that the letter says that the union has already come down to 52 percent in talks and that the players need to reject anything lower than that or that plus major changes to the current soft salary cap system.
The timing of this letter clearly is meant to give the NBA union some leverage in the talks on Tuesday. Part of that is the last line of the letter:
“Remember, it is not about when or how fast a deal is reached, it is about taking the time to secure the best deal.”
Part of it also seems to be agents warning players not to get taken to the cleaners just to get a deal.
In the last labor deal the players got 57 percent of the league’s BRI in salary. Owners have said that is the main reason they lost $300 million last season (although that number is certainly debatable). In recent negotiations, the players have dropped as far as 53 percent (and hinted they would go lower) and the owners have suggested they would go only up to 48 percent to the players. That is still a huge gap of about $200 million in the first year of the deal alone.
If the players reject going down even that far, the owners would harden their stance as well.
And then we would be headed to court — many of these same agents had pushed for the NBA union to decertify as the NFL union did at the start of its lockout, then file anti-trust lawsuits. Some still want to go that route. The courts did not rule in favor of the NFL union on the lockout and the head of the NFL’s players union, DeMaurice Smith, came to a NBA players union meeting to warn them against going the decertification path. Still, that option is on the table and the league filed a pre-emptive lawsuit to try and cut that path off at the knees.
While this latest letter from the agents does not call for decertification, it is from the same aggressive school of thought that thinks the owners can be backed off their demands.
The agents also clearly fear a deal they don’t like being forced down their throats. They want time for their players to review the deal (which really means time for them to find out about it). This is not what happened in the last lockout, ESPN reports.
When the union and owners struck a deal to end the lockout that delayed the start of the league’s 1998-99 season, players were given barely more than 24 hours to review the owners’ proposal and find their way to New York, where they had to be present to have their vote count in a show-of-hands format rather than by secret ballot, sources say. A total of 184 votes were recorded — the deal was ratified 179-5 — but that represented less than half the players eligible to vote.
The agents do not have a seat at the negotiating table — which frustrates them — the question is how much influence they carry on the outside. It can be considerable in some cases, but could they threaten a deal they don’t like? Hard to say.
Not sure we’re going to have to cross this bridge for a while, but it is out there.
ESPN reports the agents who sent the letter as:
Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group; Bill Duffy of BDA Sports; Dan Fegan of Lagardere Unlimited; Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management; Leon Rose and Henry Thomas of Creative Artists Agency; and Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports and Entertainment.
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