SBJ/May 2-8, 2011/Labor and Agents

Brady ruling could translate into leverage for NBA players

Liz Mullen
If federal Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s ruling enjoining the NFL lockout holds up on appeal, it could give leverage to NBA players in their labor dispute with that league, legal experts say.

The NBA collective-bargaining agreement expires June 30. Just as NFL players did last year, NBA players have taken steps to authorize the decertification of their union, the National Basketball Players Association, as a weapon in the labor battle. The NBA is expected to lock players out if there is no new agreement reached.

As previously written in this space (April 4-10, 2011, issue), many in NBA circles have been watching the Brady v. NFL case, even before Nelson’s ruling last Monday enjoining the lockout. The NBPA, which is represented by the same outside counsel as the decertified NFL Players Association, Jeffrey Kessler and Jim Quinn, could decertify the basketball union, with the players then filing a lawsuit challenging any lockout the NBA may impose as a violation of antitrust laws. The NBA would be expected, as the NFL did, to challenge any such decertification as a tactic if NBA players take that step.

Nelson, in her decision, found that the NFLPA’s decertification was “valid and effective.” An appeal by the league was expected at press time for this column.

“It’s a clear victory for the NBA players,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the Tulane University sports law program. “It may turn out to be a temporary one, but if it holds up on appeal, it gives NBA players tremendous leverage going into those negotiations. It introduces decertification followed by an antitrust suit as a viable threat for the players and perhaps eliminates the owners’ strongest weapon by not allowing them to lock the players out.”

The NBA and NBPA did not respond to requests for comments on this story.

The NBA players’ and NFL players’ situations are different in a number of ways, including that the NFLPA has decertified in the past while the NBPA has not. The expired NFL CBA contained language regarding the future decertification of the football players union; the NBA CBA does not contain any such language.

Bill Gould, the former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board and a current Stanford Law School professor, said before Nelson’s decision that she could have made a decision in favor of the NFL players based on the CBA language — which, had she done so, would not be as important a victory for the NBA players. As she ruled, Gould said, her decision could give NBA players more leverage.

“I know she didn’t decide it on the [NFL] collective-bargaining agreement [language],” Gould said. “This reasoning applies completely to the NBA players.”

LANDMARK SIGNS D. WILLIAMS: The Landmark Sports Agency, owned by Rob Pelinka — who is best known as agent to Kobe Bryant — signed University of Arizona forward Derrick Williams for representation. Williams is seen as potentially the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft.

“We are honored to be working with Derrick and his family,” Pelinka said in a statement to SportsBusiness Journal.

GAYLORD SIGNS A-ROD FOR MARKETING: Gaylord Sports Management, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based firm that represents golfers, baseball players and other sports talent, has signed New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez for marketing and other off-the-field work. Gaylord founder Steve Loy, best known as agent to golfer Phil Mickelson, will represent him.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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