SBD/November 4, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NBA Lockout Watch, Day 127: Talks To Resume Saturday Amid Decertification Rumors

Negotiations to end the NBA lockout "will resume Saturday amid a new threat to labor peace: a disillusioned faction of players," according to Howard Beck of the N.Y. TIMES. A source said that the group of "about 50 players, including some All-Stars, are planning a drive to dissolve their union if talks again falter, or if the talks produce a labor deal that they deem unpalatable." The source said that the players "held two conference calls this week with an antitrust lawyer, on Tuesday and on Thursday." Reports indicate that the movement is "entirely player-driven, and born of a frustration with the pace of negotiations." Decertification would "allow the players to sue the NBA under federal antitrust law, and could force the owners to end the lockout." But there are "many potential obstacles, both legal and otherwise, and the decertification process could take two months." By that time, the "entire 2011-12 season might be lost." Tulane Dir of Sports Law Gabe Feldman said the decertification talk could be “just another ploy to gain leverage” for the players and a “major weapon in collective bargaining.” But Beck notes it also "could make it tougher to reach a deal." The 50-player faction is "essentially demanding that the union make no more concessions." That means "holding firm for a 52.5 percent share of league revenue -- as the union has done so far -- and rejecting any new restrictions on contracts and free agency." If the union "compromises too far in either area, it could trigger the decertification drive." If the union decertifies, its leadership "would effectively be dismissed, giving the league no one to negotiate with, and no immediate possibility for a new" CBA (N.Y. TIMES, 11/4). YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski cited sources as saying that several "prominent NBA agents were proponents of the calls" with the lawyer. Sources said that the calls also included "discussion about refusing to ratify a deal brought to the players by" NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter and NBPA President and Lakers G Derek Fisher (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/3).

RUMORS ON THE D-WORD
: ESPN.com's Stein & Broussard cite sources as saying that Hunter "was aware that at least one of the calls had taken place this week and he is neither anxious nor alarmed." Hunter has "countered for months that decertification is in the back of his mind as a last resort." Stein & Broussard noted it is "not clear whether the 'Big Seven' agents who pushed for decertification throughout the summer ... organized the call." That group includes agents Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Leon Rose, Dan Fegan, Jeff Schwartz, Mark Bartelstein and Henry Thomas, and sources said that "at least a few of them were involved" in the call (ESPN.com, 11/4). SI.com's Sam Amick cited sources as saying that the players are "attempting to apply pressure to the situation heading into Saturday's meeting with the owners with the hopes that" Hunter and Fisher "don't make any more concessions" (SI.com, 11/3). On Long Island, Alan Hahn notes the threat of decertification "alone -- and the publicity of it -- could be a tactic to gain some kind of leverage" going into Saturday's talks (NEWSDAY, 11/4). SI.com's Michael McCann notes decertification "would provide players with a powerful legal weapon: the ability to file federal antitrust litigation against the league" (SI.com, 11/4). ESPN.com's Larry Coon noted by decertifying, the players "would be throwing a counterpunch after being on the ropes for many months" (ESPN.com, 11/4). But in N.Y., Marc Berman cites sources as saying that decertification is "unlikely to happen." The sources said that without union permission, "they need 30-percent of the players to sign petitions for an election before the NLRB and then need a majority player vote to decertify." One source noted that is "not an easy process" (N.Y. POST, 11/4).

Hunter says that he does not know what the two
sides will accomplish during Saturday's talks

CROWD EXPECTED SATURDAY
: In Boston, Steve Bulpett reports things "will look a little different when the NBA and Players Association resume negotiations" Saturday in N.Y. Sources said that the session "will be much larger than the recent talks in terms of participation." Players beyond the exec committee "are expected to attend, and there could be greater participation on the owners’ side, as well." Bulpett notes this "may be an effort to make things more transparent in response to inside questions about the directions the two leaderships have been taking." It could also be "a show of solidarity from each side amid reports of fractures" (BOSTON HERALD, 11/4). CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger noted talks were schedueld for Saturday after Hunter called NBA Commissioner David Stern "and asked if he wanted to 'take another stab at it.'" Hunter said, "I don’t know that we’re going to accomplish much, but we’re going to meet." The NBPA held a "three-hour strategy meeting" Thursday which "took on the distinct tone of a damage-control session." But union officials after the meeting declared "their unity and determination not to accept a bad deal just to save the season." Hunter said that union execs and players "had spent only 15 minutes total this week -- including Thursday’s meeting -- addressing reports of a rift between he and Fisher, but spent more time than that addressing the reports to the media." Fisher "denied having unauthorized discussions with league negotiators in which he reportedly told them he could sell a 50-50 deal to the players, and Hunter denied having a confrontation with Fisher on the matter" (CBSSPORTS.com, 11/3). The N.Y. TIMES' Beck notes Hunter and Fisher "sat side by side at a conference table" during the media conference after Thursday's meeting. Hunter said, "Derek and I have an excellent relationship. The board, we’re all together. So if you’re all expecting anything other than that, you’re wasting your time." Fisher said that the FoxSports.com report written by Jason Whitlock was "'libelous and defamatory' and demanded a retraction." When asked directly whether he had "promised Stern that he could get the union to agree to a 50-50 split of revenue," Fisher said, "No, I did not" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/4).

WHITLOCK: FISHER IN OVER HIS HEAD: Fox Sports' Whitlock Thursday appeared on "The Jim Rome Show" to defend the article, saying Fisher has been “freelancing" in his role as union president. Whitlock: "He’s been operating outside the control or the cooperation of the rest of the union, and that has troubled Billy Hunter and some people on the Executive Committee.” Whitlock: “There is disunity at the top, there’s no question about that.” He said Fisher has become “front man for the union, he’s in control of this." Whitlock: "I think it’s inappropriate. I think he’s in over his head. That’s not a disrespect to Derek Fisher, but he’s not a labor negotiator.” He continued, "What has happened with professional athletes as they have made more and more money and become bigger and bigger celebrities, their egos get out of control and they think they can do everything. Go look at the history of the NHL lockout and how Trevor Linden and that group removed Bob Goodenow. Go look at Gene Upshaw’s last years with the NFL players’ union and how Troy Vincent was accused of trying to undermine Gene Upshaw. What’s transpiring with the NBA players’ union is not unique. This is what’s been going on the last few years with these unions. The athletes and their egos so out of control they think they’re the smartest guys in the room" ("The Jim Rome Show," 11/3). However, NBPA VP and Bucks G Keyon Dooling Thursday said, "The battle is not within our union. Derek Fisher's the best president our union has ever seen. We'll stand as committee members" (AP, 11/3). NBPA VP and Wizards F Maurice Evans: "Both Derek and Billy deserve better than this, to be tied to a potential scandal" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/4).

HAS FAT LADY SUNG? In San Jose, Tim Kawakami writes the "real parts of the NBA labor struggle are, for all intents and purposes, over." There will "be a deal probably within the next few weeks," as there are "major cracks in the union's solidarity." Kawakami writes, "We know that Stern and the owners have won. Now all they have to do is decide the final score and set the timeline and terms for forcing/accepting/inducing the union's surrender" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 11/4). CBSSPORTS.com's Berger wrote the players "have had enough of this lockout," and "even the owners would have to admit they're surprised it happened this fast." The players "haven't even missed a paycheck yet, and already the capitulation has begun." With union leadership "fractured and the players commencing a slow but steady drumbeat about how they want to stop fighting and play, this charade is almost over." Berger: "This exercise in utter futility has almost reached its inevitable conclusion. Dear players: You lose. It was only a matter of by how much" (CBSSPORTS.com, 11/3). In Boston, Bob Ryan writes it is "very annoying for those of us who still love the sport of professional basketball to see what its custodians are currently doing to harm it." Ryan: "We know that countless people on the periphery are hurt, losing money they will never get back, and all for really stupid reasons. May we establish one thing? The players have already lost. So let’s get on with it" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/4). Meanwhile, in Detroit, Drew Sharp writes under the header, "Loss Of NBA Love More Devastating Than Missed Games." Sharp writes, "The NBA still doesn't get it. It's a popular product, but it isn't a passionate one. If it's around, fine. But take it away and watch how quickly folks realize how easily they can live without it." Sharp added, "How many people out there actually 'love' the NBA? The league quickly will find out the longer this suicidal work stoppage continues" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 11/4).

STICKY SITUATION: In L.A., Helene Elliott notes the lockout "seems a golden opportunity for NHL teams to win advertisers and woo basketball fans who have free time and unspent money." But that is "more complicated than letting everyone know the NHL is in full swing while the NBA is idle." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, "Work stoppages aren't good for any of us. And I get asked a lot about how we're 'taking advantage of an opportunity.' The truth is, you can't make an elaborate plan when you never know how long a work stoppage is going to last." Elliott notes there are "other reasons NHL teams can't be perceived as profiting from the misfortunes of NBA teams with whom they often share arenas and owners." The NHL has "been through two lockouts since 1994 and faces another labor negotiation next year." If the league "shuts down again, NHL owners wouldn't appreciate NBA owners using that as a marketing tool" (L.A. TIMES, 11/4).

LET'S ALL MAKE BELIEVE: Thursday night’s 11:00pm edition of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” first reported on the NBA about 25-minutes into the broadcast, with ESPN’s Steve Levy saying, “Here are the NBA games we would have been showing you highlights from tonight.” ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt interjected, “We’re not doing that again, are we?” The games included Magic-Heat, Grizzlies-Jazz and Nuggets-Trail Blazers, with Levy asking Van Pelt, “What would the score have been in that game, Magic-Heat, if you had to guess?” Van Pelt: “Last year the Heat won that one at home pretty big. I’m not doing this” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 11/3).
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