Posted on: March 11, 2011 7:20 pm
Edited on: March 11, 2011 10:39 pm

NFLPA's tactic will be blueprint for NBA talks

The decision Friday by the NFL Players Association to decertify and attempt to block a lockout by owners has wide-ranging implications for the NBA labor talks. While NBA labor strife is a few months behind football's timeline, legal experts expect the basketball game plans to play out in much the same way. 

For those keeping legal score at home, the first point to make is that there's no correlation between the timing of the NFLPA's decertification and the timing of such a decision by the NBPA. While labor attorneys view decertification -- the disbanding of a union and transformation its members into independent contractors -- as a potential deterrent to a lockout, the NBPA won't have the same time pressure to decertify that the NFLPA did. 

Once it became apparent Friday that no deal would be reached in the NFL talks before the 5 p.m. expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, the NFLPA had to decertify and put into motion its antitrust lawsuit or risk losing its sympathetic judge. U.S. District Court Judge David Doty in Minneapolis still has jurisdiction over any and all disputes stemming from the NFL's 1993 antitrust settlement -- but only when a collective bargaining agreement is in effect. If the NFLPA had waited until the agreement expired and/or the owners imposed a lockout, Doty -- who has a history of pro-player rulings -- wouldn’t have retained jurisdiction. Doty's jurisdiction stemming from the '93 settlement was included in all subsequent CBAs. 

The NBA and NBPA have no such provision, meaning lawsuits between the two sides can be filed in any court where the league or teams do business. In an interesting twist, Doty, 81, might want to clear his calendar for the summer. The NBA's collective bargaining agreement expires June 30, and one option at the NBPA's disposal would be to decertify and file an antitrust lawsuit -- guess where? -- in Doty's district. Legal experts say the case wouldn't necessarily be assigned to Doty, except that similar cases typically are assigned to the same judge to avoid differing opinions on the same legal issues within the same district. 

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The outcome of the NFLPA's decertification move will provide a "road map" and a "blue print" for the NBPA as it weighs its legal options when it comes to preventing a lockout or reacting to one once the NBA owners impose it, said a person familiar with the NBA's labor situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to address the matter publicly. 

The question of whether the NBPA follows the NFLPA's lead and decertifies will depend nearly 100 percent on how successful the move is for the NFLPA. If NFL players are successful in getting an injunction preventing the NFL from imposing a lockout against a group of employees that is no longer unionized, this would be a clear green light for the NBA players -- who, coincidentally, are represented by the same attorney, Jeffrey Kessler. If decertification works for the NFL players, you don't need a law degree to see that the NBPA will run the very same play. 

But if the decertification tactic winds up being, as NBA commissioner David Stern called it, "the nuclear option that falls on the party that launches it," then it becomes far less likely that the NBA players would pursue it. 

"If the NFLPA is unsuccessful in blocking a lockout, then the NBA players will lose leverage," said Gabe Feldman, director of the Sports Law Program at Tulane University. 

Despite different issues, the NFL and NBA labor talks are in lock step -- so much so that Billy Hunter, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, issued a statement this week announcing his full support of the NFLPA's efforts.

"The success of the NFL is built on the backs and shoulders of NFL players," Hunter said. "NFL players deserve nothing less than an agreement that recognizes the players' contributions and sacrifices, despite the owners' threats and tactics to impose a lockout. The NBPA offers unconditional and uncompromising support for the NFLPA's continued efforts to secure a fair deal."

The ability to watch how the NFL legal fight plays out months before their own labor D-Day is a clear advantage for both the NBA and NBPA -- but not necessarily for one over the other. On one hand, having clues as to how certain legal moves will play out could save the NBA and its players some time and lead to a quicker resolution. But Feldman, who has closely followed the issues in both the NFL's and NBA's labor strife, said the NBA situation is far more ripe for a lengthy work stoppage than the NFL's. 

"Looking back at history at what has caused significant work stoppages in sports, it's typically when one side is seeking a sea change and that side has determined that they're better off not playing than playing under the current system," Feldman said. 

That describes the NBA owners, who are seeking to switch from a soft-cap to a hard-cap system, but not their NFL brethren, who seem to simply want to make more money for the same reasons dogs -- well, because they can. 

But with superteams having been built or under construction in all the major NBA markets, not all owners are down with the notion of killing the sport for a significant time -- perhaps for an entire season. In that regard, Stern will have a much more difficult time unifying his owners than NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will have. 

On one hand, a significant number of small-market and/or low-revenue owners are unfazed by the NBA's skyrocketing TV ratings. As one person familiar with ownership's bargaining strategy put it, the obvious interest in watching NBA games on TV has no bearing on the league's financial health. "They don't correlate," the person said, asserting that the NBA gets no additional money tied to higher ratings.  On the other hand, is Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan going to stand idly by while the 2011-12 season is canceled after it was revealed Friday that Knicks season-ticket prices will increase an average of 49 percent in the wake of the team's acquisition of Carmelo Anthony

If enough NBA owners are willing to go to the wall with their position that the soft-cap system is broken and must be obliterated at any cost, then there's little hope the early weeks and months after the expiration of the CBA will go any better than what the NFL is experiencing now. Both sides in the basketball fight can simply get their popcorn, see how the NFL players' decertification tactic works, and proceed accordingly. 

All of which means a potentially long summer of watching athletes perform in the courtroom instead of where they belong.
Posted on: October 21, 2010 9:39 pm

Stern: Players, refs will adjust to new tech rule

NEW YORK – Lost in David Stern’s no soup for you proclamation Thursday about slashing player salaries by one-third was this nugget from the NBA commissioner: There is “widespread support” among NBA owners for the league-ordered crackdown on players’ complaining, and the referees will have to adjust to the new enforcement, too.

“In some cases, players were a little confused,” Stern said, referring to the flurry of preseason technical fouls resulting from the lower tolerance for complaining and demonstrative protests about calls. “They’re being illuminated with respect to it. In some cases, a referee might have reacted too soon, and they’re being alerted to it. So overall, we think it’s moving its way. We don’t take it as a major problem.”

Stern went so far as to invite the National Basketball Players Association – with which the NBA is locked in a challenging labor negotiation – to “exercise all of their rights” in challenging the league’s new guidelines. The day after the CelticsKevin Garnett was ejected with a double-technical last week against the Knicks, the union threatened to file a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board over the NBA’s anti-whining campaign.

“We’ll be talking to them,” Stern said of the union. “I don’t think it’s going to come to that. I think you’ll see that they will come to understand that we actually have a joint goal here. To have the greatest athletes in the world whining up and down the court is nothing that anyone that loves this game would want to see. … This, to me, is about protecting and promoting the players.”

While Stern gave a little ground in admitting that some referees have overstepped in the early enforcement of the anti-whining rule, he tried to take the ground back with this statement: “I think the players will do more adjusting than the referees, but there will be some referee adjustments as well. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.

“They’re the best athletes in the world,” Stern said. “And they do have passion, intensity, teamwork and the like. We just think if we can clear the stage for them to demonstrate those skills, and they’re not perceived as debaters and whining, that elevates them to a place where they should be.”

Several players have spoken out publicly against the new guidelines, which call for an end to emotional outbursts over referees’ calls as well as repetitive complaining about the officiating during the games. The owners, however, are on board with the league’s determination to clean up the whining.

“The owners are behind that,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said after the league’s Board of Governors meeting wrapped up at the St. Regis Hotel. “We all see that as the best for the game – not only for the appearance of the game, but it’ll speed the game up by having the players not demonstrate or talk too much.”

Stu Jackson, the NBA’s executive vice president for basketball operations who is overseeing enforcement of the new policy, showed the owners video examples of techs that have been called or not called during the preseason to drive home the point that a middle ground can be achieved. Taylor said the owners were “pretty comfortable that it was being handled all right.”

“If we say to our players, ‘You can’t go up and throw your fist in the air in the face of a referee,’ they stop that, and they run over to the other side [of the court] and they throw their fist in the air,” Stern said. “We say, ‘OK, guys, stop it.’ Guess what? They’re stopping it. … They know exactly how to adjust. They will adjust here and the referees will call fair games, and our fans will have a better appreciation for how good our players really are.”

Posted on: October 15, 2010 8:22 pm

Source: League won't cave on tech issue

NBA players complaining about new rules designed to stop complaining won't result in league executives rethinking the crackdown, a person with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com Friday.

"I don't think it will have any effect," said the person, who has knowledge of the NBA's strategy but wasn't authorized to discuss it.

So after a flurry of technical fouls and a stridently worded threat of legal action from the National Basketball Players Association, it appears that the NBA and its players' union are headed for a showdown only months before the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire.

After the Celtics' Kevin Garnett was ejected Wednesday night in the latest incident highlighting the league's crackdown on whiners, the NBPA issued a statement calling the rule changes "unnecessary and unwarranted," saying they could cause a "stifling of the players’ passion and exuberance for their work" and "may actually harm our product."

"The changes were made without proper consultation with the Players Association, and we intend to file an appropriate legal challenge," the statement said.

There has been no public comment from commissioner David Stern or any of his lieutenants in light of the NBPA's threat. But the person with knowledge of league's strategy said officials are determined to put a stop to constant complaining about calls and verbal abuse of officials and won't cave as a result of the NBPA's threat.

The closest parallel in recent showdowns between the NBA and the union came during the 2006-07 season, when league executives backtracked on their switch to a synthetic Spalding ball after years of using a leather ball. The synthetic ball was widely panned by players, and the union filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board saying it wasn't consulted about what amounted to a drastic change in working conditions.

(I know those of you who work in the real world are snickering, but this is the terminology that the lawyers use to arrive at common-sense solutions that are obvious to the rest of us.)

After a few weeks, the league pulled the synthetic ball and went back to leather -- though not necessarily in response to the players' grievance. It turns out players were receiving what amounted to paper cuts from the rougher surface of the ball.

This is different -- in a way. On one hand, nobody's health is being endangered by the NBA's crackdown on complaining. But the league did increase the fines for technical fouls, and players' ability to perform could be affected if they're whistled for techs, ejected, or suspended for piling up too many techs. Then there's just the small matter that nobody wants to watch that.

Some -- like Matt Moore of the Facts & Rumors blog -- say too bad. Don't have tantrums like a 5-year-old in the school yard, and you won't be assessed any technical fouls. I say the solution is somewhere in the middle. Clearly, nobody wants to see NBA players griping about every call and non-call. The gesturing, cursing, pointing and other expressions of disbelief that various players possibly could've committed a foul ... all that has to go. But nobody wants to pay hundreds of dollars to sit in the stands and watch Kobe Bryant get ejected from a game under these new rules. (And believe me, he will.)

In the end, this won't be solved by grievances, lawsuits or other complaining. (Complaining, after all, is what the league is trying to get rid of.) It'll be solved when league officials figure out how to communicate to the referees exactly how far is too far -- and when the refs get a better feel for how to enforce this new normal of on-court behavior. And yes, it'll be solved when the players adjust to their new boundaries.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com