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Report: Group of 50 NBA players threaten union decertification

Nov 3, 2011, 10:34 PM EDT

billy-hunter, derek fisher AP

In case you thought sanity might encroach on the NBA labor talks, we bring you this report:

A group of hardline NBA players, about 50, participated in a conference call this week behind the back of union leadership, reports both the New York Times and Yahoo. The upshot of the mid-week call is that if the union gives any more on either system issues or percentage of basketball related income, the group will start a drive to decertify the union.

Know that this is as much a negotiating tactic as a real threat, and effort to give the union some leverage. (“You need to get a deal with us now before this renegade group tries to hijack the talks.”) That said, the threat could anger owners and handcuff union leadership — Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher — in those talks.

Here are the highlights from Howard Beck at the Times:

Two conference calls were held this week between the players and an antitrust lawyer — once on Tuesday and again on Thursday. It is not clear whether union leaders have been directly informed of the effort.

“And the players are seriously considering decertification if a deal is not reached where the players’ proposals are in the final elements of the deal,” said the person connected to the players.

Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo adds this:

Said one player on the calls: “If nothing else, this takes us off our heels.”

Several prominent NBA agents were proponents of the calls, sources said.

A number of prominent agents have favored decertification from the beginning.

The “players’ proposals” means the players get 52 percent of basketball related income (BRI, the league’s revenue) and the system that allows teams paying the luxury tax to still use sign-and-trades and the mid-level exceptions (among other things). The owners have offered the players 50 percent of BRI and want to keep teams over the tax from having many exceptions to add higher-priced players.

Decertification means dissolution of the union, allowing individual players to sue the league on anti-trust grounds. Attorneys for the owners and players were in court this week on the owners efforts to block the players from decertifying. The NFL players union decertified immediately upon the start of the lockout but so far the NBA leadership has not chosen to go that direction.

To decertify it would take 30 percent of the more than 400 players to sign a petition to call for a vote. If that vote was called, a simple majority (50 percent plus one player) backing it would be enough to force decertification. Union leadership would be pushed aside in this process. That said, it is not clear there are the votes to pull this off.

Also know this — if the union decertifies you can all but kiss the season goodbye. The pro decertification forces will deny this, but doing so would put the issue into the courts and the owners have called this a “nuclear option” that would cause them to go to their bunker and really dig in. It would make a bad situation worse. There would be no season. So let’s hope this is more threat than reality.

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