SBJ/Feb. 14-20, 2011/Labor and Agents

Will All-Star talks bring more fireworks?

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association will hold a labor negotiating session during All-Star Week, the first formal bargaining session since mid-November.

While some sources say the session — which is expected to be attended by numerous players and owners — will likely be ceremonial in nature, others wonder whether the talks will blow up publicly as they did last year. That’s when NBA Commissioner David Stern and NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter held dueling news conferences in which the union said some of the all-star players asked the owners to rip up their request for a 30 percent to 40 percent rollback in salaries, and Stern accused the union of bringing in its lawyer to threaten the owners with decertification of the union.

The NBA collective-bargaining agreement expires June 30. If there is no deal, the owners can lock players out. Players, meanwhile, have begun taking steps to authorize the decertification, or disbanding, of the union. If the players are able to decertify — the owners are likely to challenge it — they could sue the league to prevent a lockout and claim damages under antitrust laws.

One knowledgeable basketball source, when asked whether the 2011 All-Star CBA session would result in the same level of drama as the 2010 session, remarked dryly, “Let’s hope not.”

What will be discussed, though, or even when the talks will happen, was not clear as of last Wednesday. “There will be a meeting during All-Star Week,” said NBA spokesman Mike Bass. “We are still finalizing the details.”
Bass said the last formal negotiating session between the two sides was Nov. 18. Sources said that, as is common in collective bargaining, key players and small groups have met since then.

Before the November meeting, the last major development in the NBA negotiations occurred over the summer, when the NBPA made a counteroffer to the owners’ proposal asking players for significant concessions.
“We gave them all these proposals, and other than [the league negotiators] asking questions, we have not had a response,” said Jeffrey Kessler, outside labor counsel to the NBPA.

Bass declined to comment on whether the NBA had made a counteroffer to the players’ proposal, saying, “We’re not negotiating through the media.” The NBA also declined SportsBusiness Journal’s requests to interview a key member of the league’s negotiating team.

As has been reported, a notable plank in the players’ proposal is that they are willing to move off the 57 percent of revenue that NBA players are guaranteed under the current deal. The NBA has said that the current deal is unacceptable and has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for the league and its clubs.
The NBA, unlike the NFL in its negotiations with NFL players for a new deal, has been willing to open its books to the players, and the players have conceded there are problems in the system.

Kessler said the union has made a series of proposals intended to address some of the problems, including one aimed at what he called “the problem of persistent losers,” referring to teams that lose year after year despite annually getting high draft picks.

The NBPA, as part of last summer’s counteroffer, proposed that losing teams get two first-round picks in the draft instead of one, while winning teams would lose their picks and have no first-round draft choices. Additionally, the NBPA has offered to give the NBA cost credits — money that would be taken off the top of revenue that makes up the salary cap — for teams that invest in projects that create new revenue, such as new arenas. Whether these concessions will be enough to get talks started is yet to be seen.

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