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Tag:Billy Hunter
Posted on: February 25, 2012 8:56 pm
 

Stern anoints Silver as successor

ORLANDO, Fla. – David Stern proclaimed Saturday night what has long been assumed but never confirmed: He will recommend deputy commissioner Adam Silver to succeed him as commissioner when he retires.

“One of the things that a good CEO does -- and I try to be a good CEO -- is provide his board with a spectacular choice for his successor,” Stern said during his annual All-Star news conference. “And I have done that. And that's Adam.”

Stern, 69, reiterated what he said after the collective bargaining agreement saving a 66-game season after a 149-day lockout was finalized: He will not be commissioner when both sides have the opportunity to opt out of the deal in 2017. Beyond that, he placed no timetable on his departure, but said he would have the discussion with owners “very soon.”

Silver has been deputy commissioner and chief operating office since 2006 after serving for more than eight years as president and COO of NBA Entertainment. He has played a key role in negotiating the league’s last two broadcast rights agreements and the last four collective bargaining agreements with the National Basketball Players Association – and also created NBA China as a stand-alone entity. Silver, who also played a key role in delivering the league’s public message to the media during the lockout, was asked during Stern’s news conference how prepared he is for the job. He smiled and slid the microphone in front of Stern.

“He’s a first-rate, top-of-the-class executive,” Stern said.

Stern's recommendation of Silver would have to be approved by the league's Board of Governors.

Among the other news Stern made Saturday night:

• Negotiations in Orlando involving the league, city of Sacramento and the Maloof family on achieving a funding plan for a new arena before a March 1 deadline has “several remaining points that may or not be bridged,” Stern said. The talks will continue Sunday, and Stern said the issue is coming up with additional funding necessary to pay for the project. “Life is a negotiation,” he said. “… It’s getting there, but it’s just not there yet. And we’re looking for other ways, imaginative ways, to bridge the gap.”

• He confirmed that there is a leading candidate to purchase the New Orleans Hornets and that the league is “optimistic that we will make a deal” in the next “week or 10 days.” There is a second group that is “in sort of second place,” Stern said, “waiting to see how we do with group one.” Both groups would keep the team in New Orleans, where the city is continuing to negotiate an arena lease extension upon which the ownership deal is contingent.

• Stern confirmed that he has spoken with Seattle investor Chris Hansen, who is spearheading support for an arena to attract a team and replace the Supersonics, who moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. “It sounded OK to us,” Stern said of Hansen’s plan. “Go for it. That’s all.” But Stern acknowledged that the plan would require that “we have a team that we could put there.” As arena funding talks with Sacramento and the Malodors continue, one might view Stern’s enthusiasm about the prospect of a return to Seattle as a leverage point in that negotiation.

• Stern alluded to increased attendance, TV ratings and sales, but didn’t give specifics. National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter said earlier in the day that Stern has told him attendance and merchandise sales are up, and that Silver told him in a recent meeting that league revenues are expected to increase more than pre-lockout projections. “Everything is good,” Stern said.

• Asked whether the NBA would consider aiding teams that lose superstars to free agency, such as host city Orlando is facing with Dwight Howard, Stern said, and “No. Why should we? … We have a system that has a draft that basically tells a player where he’s going to play in this league when he’s drafted, and a further system that has a huge advantage to the team that has him. Our players could play for seven years for a team they didn’t choose. And we think that’s a system, but not a prison. ... I'm sure Dwight will make a good and wise decision for him."

• Stern shot down the notion of adding expansion teams in North America (as if there aren’t too many teams already). But he wouldn’t rule out overseas expansion in the next 10 years, deferring the topic to silver, who said, “We’ll see.”

• Stern took issue when asked to evaluate his decision, when acting in his capacity as the owner of the Hornets, to disallow the trade that would’ve sent Chris Paul to the Lakers. “There’s no superstar that gets traded in this league unless the owner says, ‘Go ahead with it.’ And in the case of New Orleans, the representative of the owner said, ‘That’s not a trade we’re going to make.’” “But that representative was you?” Stern was asked. “Correct,” he said. “And was that the right move to make?” “Buy a ticket and see,” Stern said. “We’ll see how it works out.”

• Asked about reports that shoe companies are trying to steer their star clients to bigger markets – a reference to Adidas’ relationship with Howard – Silver said the league does not have jurisdiction over shoe companies. “But we have looked into it, and we have been assured by the two major shoe companies in the league that the incentives they build into contracts are based on winning as opposed to market size,” Silver said.

• On Jeremy Lin, the Taiwanese-American whose sudden emergence with the Knicks has spawned intense global interest, Stern said, “I just think it’s the universal story of the underdog stepping forward.”
Posted on: December 7, 2011 6:14 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 7:00 pm
 

NBPA urges ratification in letter detailing deal

NEW YORK -- Union executive director Billy Hunter urged NBA players to ratify the next collective bargaining agreement in a letter detailing terms of the deal -- some of which were revealed publicly for the first time Wednesday.

"The NBPA Executive Committee recommends that the players vote to ratify the proposed CBA," Hunter wrote in the letter, obtained by CBSSports.com and other outlets. "Although the players made significant financial concessions, including taking a reduced share of Basketball-Related Income, collective salaries will nonetheless increase over the course of the CBA. The players retained important system issues and achieved gains on non-economic issues."

The term sheet emailed to players detailed previously publicized aspects of the deal, including a 51.15 percent share of BRI for the players in 2011-12 and a 50 percent share thereafter -- with the possibility of achieving a 51 percent share if revenues exceeded projections. Hunter's letter projected that player salaries and benefits would grow from $2.17 billion to more than $3 billion by the end of the 10-year agreement -- if neither side executes an opt-out clause after the sixth year of the deal.

The letter also revealed for the first time specifics of several key deal points and a litany of so-called B-list issues that union and league negotiators have hammered out over the past 11 days since the framework of the deal was tentatively agreed to Nov. 26. For example, the NBA must maintain a detailed revenue-sharing plan during the course of the agreement. (The Board of Governors is expected to formally approve the plan Thursday before voting on the CBA).

Also, clearing up some confusion among agents and team executives, the amnesty provision by which a team can waive a player and wipe the balance of his contract from the cap and tax, can only be used once per team during the course of the CBA -- and only on contracts initiated prior to the CBA. 

Among the other more interesting points:

* The minimum team salary will be 80 percent of the salary cap in 2011-12, 85 percent in '12-'13 and 90 percent in '13-'14.

* The international player buyout amount is increased from $500,000 to $525,000 this year, and by $25,000 each additional season.

* Player contracts can be renegotiated downward in extensions, as long as the player's salary does not decrease by more than 40 percent. Previously, renegotiations could only increase a player's salary, but extensions could decrease the salary. This provision closes that loophole to the extent that a player's salary cannot drop more than 40 percent in a renegotiation and extension.

* Minimum fee for player promotional appearances made on behalf of commercial sponsor set at $3,000 ($3,500 beginning in 2016-17). The fee is $4,000 for appearances beyond eight in a season.

* Players will have a minimum of 16 days off per season beginning in 2012-13. A joint NBA-NBPA committee will study further improvements to workplace conditions, focusing on such issues as back-to-back games and two-a-days during training camp.

* Draft eligibility age remains set at one year removed from high school, with a joint NBA-NBPA committee discussing future changes.

* Players with three or fewer years of service can receive unlimited assignments to the NBA Development League but will be paid their NBA salaries. Players with more than three years of service can be assigned to the D-League with their consent, for example, for injury rehab.

* Beginning in 2012-13, players can be tested a maximum of two times during the offseason for performance-enhancing drugs only. Previously, players were subject to four random drug screenings from Oct. 1-June 30. HGH testing is not included, but the joint NBA-NBPA committee will study its possible future inclusion if it is agreed that the tests would be scientifically reliable.

* For those who really enjoy the fine print, the player per diem is set at $120, training camp compensation is increased to $2,000 per week and housing reimbursement for traded players is increased to $4,500 for three months following the trade.


 
Posted on: December 2, 2011 5:26 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2011 6:18 pm
 

Deal expected to pass, but not without drama

Players have been invited to New York for a meeting Wednesday to discuss the new collective bargaining agreement, and an electronic vote will be held Thursday on whether to approve the deal, two people familiar with the process told CBSSports.com.

The Wednesday meeting will be mandatory for the 30 player reps, but all 450-plus union members are invited. In the electronic vote, a majority of players who cast ballots must approve the deal for it to pass.

Members of the National Basketball Players Association's executive committee have spent the past few days sorting out confusion among players who felt they didn't have enough information about the deal or thought the vote to reauthorize the union was akin to a vote approving the deal. Some players who thought they were voting to approve the deal this week complained that they hadn't even seen it -- even though a summary of the major deal points was delivered via email to every union member.

The union was reformed Thursday with the approval of more than 300 players, and negotiators for the NBPA and the league reconvened Friday to finish hammering out the details -- including a list of secondary items that have yet to be agreed to, such as drug testing, the age limit and provisions that allow teams to shuttle players back and forth to the NBA Development League. None of those items is expected to be a deal breaker, and a key one -- the age limit -- may be left in its current form, to be revisited at a later date after the agreement is ratified.

Not unexpectedly given how painful this entire fiasco has been, it won't end without one more dose of drama.

While the deal is expected to pass overwhelmingly, a potential sideshow could emerge regarding the future of NBPA executive director Billy Hunter. As CBSSports.com reported Wednesday, there is an insurgency being led by a handful of agents who are attempting to have their clients' votes approving the new CBA contingent on Hunter agreeing to return as head of the union only on an interim basis. As far as player involvement, the movement is being led by Celtics stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, multiple sources told CBSSports.com. 

UPDATE: A small but vocal group of players is trying to have the executive community replaced, as well, two people with knowledge of the situation said.

Pierce is represented by Jeff Schwartz, who has been among the leaders of a group of seven agents from six of the most influential agencies who've long disagreed with the union's bargaining and legal tactics. Those agents, including Arn Tellem, Dan Fegan, Mark Bartelstein and Bill Duffy, believe the players should've voted to decertify back in July and sued for antitrust violations much earlier in the process. Garnett is represented by agent Andy Miller, who has had no association with the dissident agents and was not aware of his client's involvement, sources said. Rob Pelinka, who represents Kobe Bryant and union president Derek Fisher, also is said to be among the group of insurgents, sources said.

Maurice Evans, a vice president of the union and member of the players' executive committee, said he's spoken with about a half-dozen players who were dissatisfied with the deal and the process until the details were explained.

"Once I explained the CBA to them, they were disarmed and enlightened," Evans said Friday. "A lot of guys are really excited about the deal. ... It sounds like a bunch of disgruntled agents who felt their tactics weren't followed."

The flawed strategy of an earlier decertification could've jeopardized the season and resulted in a worse deal for the players if they'd failed in their legal efforts before pressure mounted on the league to make a deal or lose the season. Furthermore, once the union was reformed, the leadership was reformed with it. Two people with knowledge of Hunter's contractual situation told CBSSports.com that his contract was renewed at some point in the past year and has either four or five years left.

In any event, Hunter will not be in place when the next opportunity arises to negotiate a new agreement -- after the sixth year of this deal, at which point each side can opt out of it. Commissioner David Stern, Hunter's longtime bargaining adversary, is expected to be retired by then as well.

Evans said several of the players he's spoken with about the deal in recent days backed off once they realized they'd been given "misinformation" about it from "not credible sources."

"Anyone who wants to challenge Billy's position will have their opportunity come Wednesday," Evans said. "I think they'll find his credentials unmatched. ... I'm extremely confident. For them to get a deal like this that speaks to each class -- the minimum player, the mid-level player and the superstar alike -- there's no way they wouldn't take this deal."

Once the deal is approved by the players and owners, it will lead to the opening of free agency and training camps on Dec. 9, with a five-game Christmas schedule of openers on Dec. 25, which the league officially announced Friday: Celtics-Knicks, Heat-Mavericks, Bulls-Lakers, Magic-Thunder and Clippers-Warriors.






Posted on: November 23, 2011 3:04 pm
Edited on: November 23, 2011 6:52 pm
 

Talks resume; is there time?

NEW YORK -- It began with sources indicating that back-channel discussions were under way last week, then took the next logical step when the identity of the third-party intermediary facilitating the resumption in talks was revealed.

Now, negotiations to save the NBA season are back on in earnest, with the focus on ending the lockout with enough time to begin the 2011-12 season by Christmas, as CBSSports.com reported Nov. 18.

Talks resumed Tuesday and are expected to continue Friday after a break for the Thanksgiving holiday, two people with knowledge of the discussions said. Yahoo Sports first reported the formal resumption of negotiations, and the New York Times reported that a Christmas Day tipoff would result in a 66-game season that would end in late April with the NBA Finals pushed back about one week.

With the nearly five-month lockout now a legal matter, the talks are taking place in the form of a litigation settlement. Is there time? Sources familiar with the negotiations maintain that if both sides are serious about finishing the negotiations that fell apart Nov. 14, when the union dissolved and the players began pursuing antitrust damages, a deal could come together relatively quickly.

Billy Hunter, director of the National Basketball Players Association, mentioned Tuesday at the players' Thanksgiving turkey giveaway in Harlem that he expected a settlement conference to take place under the supervision of a federal magistrate in Minnesota -- where the players' antitrust claims have been consolidated -- and that it could happen as early as next week. So if lawyers and negotiators could arrive at some semblance of an agreement by the end of the weekend, it's conceivable that the settlement could be finalized by early next week -- leaving time to open the season by Christmas, with not a minute to spare.

The league would require about a 30-day window to finalize the deal and hold an abbreviated free-agent period, preseason schedule and training camps before play could begin.

Both the league office and the office of the former players' association were in lockdown mode Wednesday, a sure sign of the serious nature of the discussions. Commissioner David Stern hasn't spoken publicly in eight days, and the NBA had no comment on the negotiations except to say that the league "remains in favor of a negotiated resolution," a league spokesman said.

Time will be especially of the essence since the settlement couldn't take the form of a collective bargaining agreement until the players voted by simple majority to reform the union and the owners agreed to recognize the union as the players' bargaining agent. The deal would then go to the players and owners for a ratification vote. All of this would have to be done with extraordinary speed.

As we well know, expedience has not been a hallmark of these negotiations. But the time to deal, sacrifice and show all your cards is now if either side wants to have a season instead of costly, lengthy antitrust litigation with a very uncertain outcome for both sides. And the remaining issues to be agreed upon -- principally restrictions on sign-and-trades and mid-level signings that the league is trying to place on high-spending teams -- are relatively minor compared to the big-ticket item of a 50-50 split of revenues that owners and players already have negotiated.

When the players rejected the owners' latest ultimatum on Nov. 14, they also were concerned about accelerated tax rates the league was proposing for teams that stay above the luxury tax line for multiple years and the interpretation for when a team is considered to be above the tax threshold for the purposes of using exceptions.

As a matter of protocol -- and legality -- former union president Derek Fisher is not participating in the talks. Fisher would only rejoin the picture if and when the union were reformed to approve a possible settlement. So with the talks in the hands of the lawyers, the question of what the starting point is in the negotiations becomes an important one.

When last the two sides bargained, they had basically agreed on a 50-50 split of revenues and had about a half-dozen system-related issues that separated them. The first question is whether or not each side's economic position changes when the negotiations resume. Hard-liners on both sides say the positions should harden, due to the economic losses that have been incurred and the threat of expensive litigation. But Jay Himes, a longtime antitrust attorney and partner at Labaton Sucharow, said the most expeditious result would come if the two sides simply picked up where they left off.

"I don't think anybody will dramatically reassess their position and say, 'Oh, wow, suddenly the calculus has changed considerably," Himes said. "... You can say, 'Well, now it's an antitrust lawsuit, give the players an extra 15 percent because they went out and got themselves a star litigator,' as they did. It sounds good, I suppose, for public consumption, but the science is not nearly that precise when you get in the negotiating room."

And neither is the risk assessment for either side. While the players may feel emboldened temporarily by the prospect of a potential $6 billion damages judgment against the owners if the season were lost, Himes cautioned that leverage can shift "from day-to-day and from decision-to-decision." And while he believes the players "on the merits, have a better shot" at ultimately winning in court, Himes said losing the entire season would be the "worst-case scenario" for them.

"From the players' point of view, at some point the season just dies, and that's really bad for them because most of them don't have good sources of outside income," Himes said. "And if the image of the NBA does suffer from a prolonged lockout, the opportunities for endorsements aren't as attractive because the advertisers don't want to pay for a tarnished brand. So that's a real disaster for the players. I'm sure they would not like to see the season killed."

Himes, co-chairman of Labaton's antitrust group and former antitrust bureau chief in the New York attorney general's office, pointed out another complicating factor for the owners that has flared up to varying degrees throughout the 2 1-2 years of bargaining talks: dissension among high-revenue and low-revenue teams. According to a person with knowledge of ownership activities, the owners recently held another internal discussion about how more money will be diverted to help struggling teams in small markets. Even at this late date, with another month of games and quite possibly the entire season in jeopardy, the owners still were not able to reach agreement among themselves on revenue sharing, the person said.

"That laundry is not necessarily being aired at the moment, but I'm sure that it's affecting the negotiating position of the teams when they leave the players and go back into their own conference room and start talking about where the money is coming from and going to," Himes said.

More than anything, the greatest and most relentless driving force behind this renewed push to get a deal is something neither side can control: the calendar. If the players can count on roughly the same schedule the NFL players got via the same U.S. District Court in Minnesota, they're looking at more than three months before an appeal would even be heard by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. By then, Christmas games would be a distant memory, and the entire season would be toast.

Thus, the time is now to salvage it. 

Posted on: November 15, 2011 8:24 pm
Edited on: November 15, 2011 11:45 pm
 

Players sue NBA for antitrust violations

NEW YORK -- NBA players sued the league alleging antitrust violations Tuesday, in part using commissioner David Stern's own words against him in making their case that the lockout is illegal.

With two antitrust actions -- one in California naming superstars Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant among five plaintiffs, and another in Minnesota naming four plaintiffs -- the players are seeking summary judgment and treble damages totaling three times the players' lost wages due to what lead attorney David Boies referred to as an illegal group boycott.

"There's one reason and one reason only that the season is in jeopardy," Boies told reporters at the Harlem headquarters of the former players' union, which was dissolved Monday and reformed as a trade association to pave the way for the lawsuits. "And that is because the owners have locked out the players and have maintained that lockout for several months. ... The players are willing to start playing tomorrow if (the owners) end the boycott."

The California case, filed Tuesday night in the Northern District, named plaintiffs who represent a wide array of players: Anthony, Durant and Chauncey Billups (high-paid stars); Leon Powe (a mid-level veteran); and Kawhi Leonard (a rookie). The plaintiffs in a similar case filed in Minnesota are Caron Butler, Ben Gordon, Anthony Tolliver and Derrick Williams.

Boies said there could be other lawsuits, and at some point, they could be combined.

It is possible, Boies said, that the players could get a summary judgment before the NBA cancels the entire season -- essentially a two-month timeframe. By that point, with the clock starting on potential damages Tuesday -- which was supposed to have been the first pay day of the season for the majority of players -- treble damages could amount to $2.4 billion.

"We would hope that it's not necessary to go to trial and get huge damages to bring them to a point where they are prepared to abide by the law," Boies said.

A statement released by the league office Tuesday night, spokesman Tim Frank said: "We haven't seen Mr. Boies' complaint yet, but it's a shame that the players have chosen to litigate instead of negotiate. They warned us from the early days of these negotiations that they would sue us if we didn't satisfy them at the bargaining table, and they appear to have followed through on their threats."

Earlier, Boies seemed to have anticipated this response, noting that the NBA's lawsuit in the Southern District of New York -- in which the league sought a declaratory judgment pre-emptively shooting down an eventual dissolution of the union -- came first.

"The litigation was started by the owners," Boies said. "... This case was started months ago when the NBA brought it there."

The crux of the players' argument is that, absent a union relationship to shield them from antitrust law, the 30 NBA owners are engaging in a group boycott that eliminates a market and competition for players' services and are in breach of contract and violation of antitrust law. The players are seeking to be compensated for three times their lost wages as permitted by law, plus legal fees and any other relieft the court deems necessary and appropriate.

One of the many issues to be resolved is where the lawsuits ultimately will be heard. The NBA almost certainly will file a motion seeking that the players' complaints be moved to the Southern District, which is in the more employer-friendly 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Northern District in California is in the more employee-friendly 9th Circuit, while the Minnesota case was filed in the district residing in the 8th Circuit, where the NFL players ultimately fell short in their quest for a permanent injunction lifting the lockout.

The NBA players are not seeking a permanent injunction; rather, Boies said they are pursuing the more expeditious and fact-based summary judgment, which could save months of legal wrangling.

UPDATE: Boies asserted that the plaintiffs have the right to choose which appropriate court has jurisdiction over their lawsuit, and that the NBA's lawsuit in New York was premature -- since the NBA players had never before in their history of union representation since the 1950s disclaimed interest or decertified until Monday. In contrast to the NBA's argument that dissolution of the union and an antitrust action were the players' goals all along, the lawsuit laid out that the players participated in bargaining with the league for more than four years after they were first allegedly threatened with massive rollbacks of salaries and competition for their services. Boies said the players had continued to bargain for months while locked out, offering a series of economic concessions totaling hundreds of millions of dollars until they finally reached the owners' desired 50-50 split in the final days of negotiations.

Unlike the NFL Players' Association's failed disclaimer of interest and antitrust action, in which the players' case was harmed by the lack of certainty over whether the collective bargaining process had ended, Boies said there was no disputing that bargaining talks had concluded in the NBA -- and that Stern himself had ended them by presenting a series of ultimatums and "take-it-or-leave-it" offers that the players could not accept.

"They had an opportunity to start playing with enormous concessions from the players," Boies said. "That wasn’t enough for them. If the fans want basketball, there’s only one group of people that they can get it from, OK? And that’s the owners, because the players are prepared to play right now."

The NBA undoubtedly will argue that it was the players who ended bargaining when their union disclaimed, and that the disclaimer is a sham, or a negotiating tactic as opposed to a legitimate dissolution.

The lawsuits came one day after the players rejected the league's latest ultimatum to accept their bargaining proposal or be forced to negotiate from a far worse one. The National Basketball Players Association at that point disclaimed interest in representing the players any longer in collective bargaining with the league after failing to reach an agreement during the 4 1-2 month lockout that was imposed by owners July 1.

In the California case, Boies, his partner, Jonathan Schiller, and players' attorney Jeffrey Kessler laid out a meticulous case that the collective bargaining process had been ended by the owners and that the players had no choice but to dissolve the union and pursue their case via antitrust law. They laid out a series of concessions the players made in an effort to reach a deal, including a "massive reduction in compensation" and "severe system changes that would destroy competition for players."

The lawsuit quoted Stern's own demands when he issued two ultimatums to the union during the final week of talks, threatening the players both times to accept the offer (with a 50-50 revenue split and various restrictions on trades and player salaries) or be furnished a worse offer in which the players' salaries would have been derived from 47 percent of revenues in a system that included a hard team salary cap and rollbacks of existing contracts -- all deal points the two sides had long since negotiated past and abandoned.

Asked if Stern made a mistake issuing the ultimatums that ended the talks, Boies said, "If you're in a poker game and you bluff, and the bluff works, you're a hero. Somebody calls your bluff, you lose. I think the owners overplayed their hand."

In the California lawsuit, the players' attorneys alleged that the owners' bargaining strategy was hatched during a meeting between league and union negotiators in June 2007. In that meeting, the lawsuit alleged, "Stern demanded that the players agree to a reduction in the players' BRI percentage from 57 percent to 50 percent," plus a more restrictive cap system. Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver told Hunter, according to the lawsuit, that if the players did not accept their terms, the NBA was "prepared to lock out the players for two years to get everything." Stern and Silver assured Hunter in the meeting that "the deal would get worse after the lockout," the lawsuit alleged.

The threats of getting a worse deal after the lockout if the players didn't accept the owners' terms were repeated in a letter to the union dated April 25, 2011, according to the lawsuit -- which then laid out the contentious, sometimes bizarre, and almost indisputably one-sided negotiation that transpired over the next few months.

"I will give the devil their due," Boies said. "They did a terrific job of taking a very hard line and pushing the players to make concession after concession after concession. Greed is not only a terrible thing, it's a dangerous thing. By overplaying their hand, by pushing the players beyond any line of reason, I think they caused this."

Boies said it was in neither side's best interests for the action to proceed to trial, which could take years and multiply the threat of damages against NBA owners. Even in their current capacity as members of a trade association, the players could have a settlement negotiated on their behalf among the attorneys for both sides. The settlement could then take the form of a collective bargaining agreement, but only after the majority of players agreed to reform the union and the owners agreed to recognize it.

Another option would be for a federal judge to require both sides to participate in mediation under the auspices of a federal magistrate; attendance would be required, though the results wouldn't be binding.

"There's lots of ways to get started, but it takes two to tango," said Boies, who once sued Microsoft in an antitrust case and represented Al Gore in his failed 2000 presidential bid based on a disputed vote count in Florida.

"If you've got somebody on the other side who is saying, 'It's my way or the highway, it's take it or leave it, this is our last and final offer and you will not see negotiation,' you can't resolve this," Boies said. "That, I will predict, that will stop, OK? There will come a time when the league faces the reality of the exposure that they face under the antitrust laws, the exposure that they face because of fan dissatisfaction with their unilateral lockout, the exposure they face by having other people in the business of professional basketball. And they will believe it is in their best interests to resolve this case.

"I can't tell you when that will happen," Boies said. "But I will tell you that it will happen, because those forces are too strong for anybody to resist indefinitely."





Posted on: November 15, 2011 4:08 pm
 

Decert plans continue; multiple lawsuits?

NEW YORK -- As lawyers representing NBA players who plan to sue the league for antitrust claims weighed their legal options Tuesday, other attorneys involved in the decertification movement still were planning to file players' petitions seeking to dissolve the union on their own, a person involved in the process told CBSSports.com.

While the letter of disclaimer sent by former union executive director Billy Hunter to David Stern Monday effectively dissolved the union and paved the way for an antitrust action against the league, agents representing some 200 players who already have signed decertification cards believe it will help the players' cause to submit them to the National Labor Relations Board. The agents believe that a statement from far more than the 30 percent of players required to initiate a vote ousting the union leadership will help the union's argument in federal court that the disclaimer of interest was a last resort and not a negotiating tactic or a "sham."

"The players gave up everything they could possibly give, and they still couldn't get a deal done," the person involved in decertification said.

In addition, the filing of decertification petitions would be proof that Hunter had no choice but to disclaim interest in order to get an expedited remedy for players. If he hadn't, the players were going to vote him out anyway -- which would've resulted in a more lengthy legal process since the players would've had to wait 45-60 for the NLRB to authorize an election. For the players to move forward with their decert case, the NBPA's unfair labor practices charge against the league -- filed in May and amended in July, when the NBPA was still a union -- would have to be withdrawn.

Meanwhile, one of the options the players' antitrust attorneys are considering is whether to file multiple lawsuits against the NBA. The main class action would be on behalf of players under contract, and logically would not include a player whose last name begins with the letter "A." Plaintiffs are listed alphabetically, and the name with the most impact would be that of future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant -- although Bryant's level of interest in being listed as the lead plaintiff is unknown. Bryant, in the final few years of his career, has deliberately taken a secondary role in the labor talks, preferring instead to allow players who would be most affected by the outcome to take the lead.

A second potential lawsuit would be specifically on behalf of the league's rookies and free agents, none of whom is under contract. The legal reasoning flows from the majority opinion by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the NFL Players Association's antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. The panel made a distinction in its opinion about rookies and free agents that some antitrust lawyers have interpreted as a sign that courts would be more likely to determine that the NBA's lockout is illegal within the narrow scope of players who are not under contract. In the NFLPA's case, the 8th Circuit strongly implied that employees not under contract could not be locked out, but did leave room for those players to be included in the lockout once they were given a chance to market their services and negotiate contracts with teams.

The players' goal in the antitrust action is to get a summary judgment in federal court -- either in the Southern District of New York, where the NBA already has established the venue with a pre-emptive lawsuit against the NBPA, or a court in a more friendly appeals circuit -- that would include treble damages (three times the players' monetary losses). If such a judgment could be achieved in 60 days, as Hunter predicted Monday, the players will have missed paychecks totaling about $800 million -- making the potential for treble damages $2.4 billion.




Posted on: November 14, 2011 12:11 am
 

Agent fires back at Stern over 'greed' comment

Angered by commissioner David Stern's assertion that greedy agents are imperiling the possibility of reaching a collective bargaining agreement, high-profile agent Mark Bartelstein fired back Sunday night -- telling CBSSports.com that it is the owners, not the agents, who are being greedy.

"The greed that's being exhibited in this negotiation is strictly on the part of the NBA owners and nowhere else," Bartelstein said. "When the union has shifted well in excess of $3 billion over the course of this deal from players to owners and that's not good enough for the owners, that's the definition of greed."

In a phone interview with the Association Press, Stern said this weekend that agents appeared to be engaged in an "orchestrated" campaign to conceal details of the owners' latest proposal from their clients and are choosing instead what he called a "losing strategy" of decertification.

"By some combination of mendacity and greed, the agents who are looking out for themselves rather than their clients are trying to scuttle the deal," Stern said.

(Mendacity isn't the same thing as asshattery, but it's close. Google says it is the act of being untruthful.)

Bartelstein, one of the most powerful agents in the NBA with dozens of clients, also is among a group of seven influential agents who have collected around 200 signatures on decertification cards to be submitted to the National Labor Relations Board in an effort to dissolve the union in response to what they view as a decidedly one-sided negotiation favoring the owners.

"If the players are going to make the concessions to address over $300 million a year in a shift in revenue from the players to the owners, the one thing the players should get back is flexibility, freedom, freedom of choice and a more vibrant and free-market system, because it's a zero-sum game," Bartelstein said. "Instead, they're ratcheting down the system in the name of competitive balance, and that's completely disingenuous.

"A negotiation is supposed to be about making trades," Bartelstein said. "The biggest part of any negotiation is the dollars. That's the biggest part of this negotiation. The players are giving the owners the dollars. If the owners are concerned about competitive balance, it can absolutely be handled through revenue sharing. And the myth they're putting out there that they can't share losses, there's no truth to that argument whatsoever. Revenue sharing has nothing to do with sharing profits and losses. It's about making sure low-revenue teams can have more revenue so they can be more competitive and you can have a better product. That should be done through revenue sharing, not through getting concessions from the players."

Bartelstein said he has spoken with union executive director Billy Hunter in recent days to share his thoughts about the state of the negotiations and the options at the players' disposal. Hunter convened a meeting of the players' executive committee Sunday night in advance of a meeting with player reps and potentially other players at 9 a.m. ET Monday in Manhattan. As was the case last week, the player reps will decide whether the owners' proposal should be presented to the full body for a vote, or whether it should be rejected or sent back to the league with suggested amendments and a request for further negotiation. Stern has said the league does not plan to revise the proposal again, and that it is the last one that realistically could provide the players with a 72-game season starting Dec. 15.

It also is the last one that would give the players a 50 percent hare of revenues. If the players reject the offer, Stern said the owners' negotiating position will shift to an offer in which player salaries would be derived from a 47 percent share of revenues with a hard team salary cap and rollbacks of existing contracts.

As of Sunday night, no final decision had been made on when the players would file a decertification petition with the NLRB, but there is widespread assumption in the agent community that the players will not accept the league's offer or put it to a vote. Also, there are indications that the decertification movement could push forward early this week regardless of what the player reps decide to do with the proposal.





 
Posted on: November 11, 2011 1:20 am
Edited on: November 11, 2011 2:25 am
 

Stern offers 72-game season, few alternatives

NEW YORK -- The NBA made its last offer that will contain a 50 percent revenue share for the players Thursday night, and commissioner David Stern shifted the pressure to the union by tantalizingly attaching the possibility of a 72-game season starting Dec. 15.

"There comes a time when you have to be through negotiating, and we are," Stern said.

The players, expressing disappointment that the league did not respond with more system compromises after they'd signaled their willingness to accept a 50-50 revenue split, will bring the proposal to their player reps Monday or Tuesday to see if they will recommend the proposal to the union membership for a vote.

"The idea ... is to sit down with them and say, ‘You sent us out to get something, here’s what we’re coming back with,'" said Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association. "'Now let’s sit down and decide what our next option is, what are we going to do.'"

The players' options are few, and none of them particularly appealing. They can put the deal to a vote, and if passed, they would be locked into a proposal that is an unmitigated victory for the owners -- one that shifts $3 billion over 10 years from the players to the owners and also dramatically restricts the rules governing team payrolls, player contracts and player movement. If the player reps tell the union leadership they want to reject the proposal, then Stern said the league's negotiating position will revert to a 47 percent share of revenues for the players along with a hard team salary cap and rollbacks of existing contracts -- the so-called "reset" proposal whose introduction at 5 p.m. Wednesday was delayed while the two parties bargained for 23 hours over the past two days.

"We have made our revised proposal," Stern said, "and we're not planning to make another one."  

Another outcome likely will begin to unfold Friday before the union even decides whether to accept the proposal -- and would continue to progress regardless of the outcome of next week's player rep meeting: Agents dissatisfied with the deal the union has negotiated and the intransigence of league negotiators already have more than 200 signatures on decertification petitions which are ready to be submitted to the National Labor Relations Board requesting a vote to dissolve the union, according to a person familiar with the plans.

Such a move would threaten to torpedo whatever support there is among the union membership to approve the owners' offer, and if it resulted in the players deciding not to vote on the proposal or voting it down, could throw the 2 1-2 year negotiations into the chaos of an anti-trust lawsuit -- virtually guaranteeing that the 2011-12 season would be lost.

If the player reps recommend that the rank-and-file vote on the owners' offer, that process could be accomplished within a matter of days -- as could approval by the owners' Board of Governors. A decertification vote would not be scheduled by the NLRB for about 45-60 days -- if the agency authorizes the vote at all. Typically, it does not do so when there is a pending unfair labor practices charge filed by employees.

Ultimately, the purpose of a decertification effort is securing an injunction or temporary restraining order from a federal judge as the result of an anti-trust lawsuit, which also would subject the league to the possibility of treble damages -- triple the players' economic losses resulting from the lockout. A faster route to the same outcome would be if union leaders stepped down via a disclaimer of interest, but that method faces a more difficult legal test in court.

If the owners' proposal passed, a new 72-game schedule would be drawn up -- deputy commissioner Adam Silver said those logistics already have been handled -- and a breakneck, one- or two-week free agency period would ensue along with shortened training camps and a limited preseason schedule. The marquee Christmas Day games would be preserved, and All-Star weekend would occur as scheduled Feb. 24-26 in Orlando.

"I'm hoping personally that's where we are now and we can get back to playing," Silver said. "But I understand from the union's standpoint it's a difficult pill to swallow right now. But that, once again, over time, we'll be proven right and this will be a better league for the players, the teams and the fans."

Union president Derek Fisher, sitting next to Hunter with several forlorn committee members standing behind him, seemed to hold out hope for a replay of what transpired over the past few days -- when the players successfully stopped the clock on Stern's Wednesday ultimatum to accept his previous proposal. After meeting with the reps, Fisher said the plan would be "either continue to negotiate currently from where we are or realize that maybe the NBA, this is their last, best offer and we’ll have to make decisions accordingly at that point."

Stern, who spoke with reporters after Fisher and Hunter, made it clear that the only choice was the one behind curtain No. 2.

"The negotiations are over," Stern said. "The negotiations on this proposal are over." 

Like most moves the league has made in the negotiations, which hit Day No. 133 Thursday since the lockout was imposed July 1, the characterization of this proposal as "revised" was a stretch, according to multiple people familiar with it. Among the tweaks to the unresolved system issues entering the past two days of talks, the owners agreed to increase the mid-level exception for luxury tax-paying teams to three-year deals starting at $3 million. The exception, which was for two years starting at $2.5 million under the previous proposal, would be available every other year for teams above the tax threshold.

Though full details of the owners' revisions weren't crystallized Thursday night, it is believed that they agreed to make sign-and-trade transactions available to tax-paying teams with certain restrictions and make other minor revisions to issues the players indicated they needed changed in return for their economic concession from 51 percent of BRI to 50: the luxury tax "cliff" that affects teams that wade into the tax and the repeater tax for teams that stay above the tax threshold for a third time in five years.

Given that teams have only remained over the tax that long seven times since the luxury tax was introduced in 2005, according to NBA TV, the issue wasn't one of substantial concern Thursday, according to sources in the negotiating room.

However, some new issues came to the forefront that concerned the players' negotiators when it became clear that the league's proposal would restrict teams from using a full mid-level exception -- four-year deals starting at $5 million -- if the signing itself pushed the team over the tax. Union negotiators want the mid-level restriction to kick in only if the team already is above the tax line before it uses the exception. The league's version is the one that is in the current proposal, according to a person who has seen it.

Nonetheless, Stern characterized the league's movement -- with the backing of labor relations committee chairman Peter Holt and the full committee, which was consulted via phone Thursday night -- as "several well-intentioned efforts to move to them on a variety of concerns."

But it is clear that chaos would ensue, not to mention catastrophic economic damage to both owners and players, if the proposal is rejected. As a result, Stern and Silver will have to consider whether their owners pushed too hard and tried to extract too thorough a victory -- one that would quickly be transformed into a loss for all sides if the deal is not one that can be sold to the players and agents who already are prepared to blow up the union.

"We moved as far as we could move," Stern said.

Despite the losses incurred by the players, not the least of which is an average $300 million-a-year giveback that absolves all the losses the league said it was suffering, the union did preserve several system provisions that would evaporate if the league reverted to its 47 percent proposal next week. Among the most important items, the union fought off the league's attempt to impose a hard team salary cap and maintained the structure of max contracts. And although the players would give back $3 billion over 10 years, with a conservative estimate of 4.5 percent annual revenue growth, player salaries would grow to nearly $3 billion by the 10th year of the deal.

And while salaries and benefits would stay flat at approximately $2.17 billion for the first two years of the deal, that provision would allow the league to keep the salary cap ($58 million) and luxury-tax level ($70 million) unchanged until adjustments for the new system would take hold in the third year.

"It’s not the greatest proposal in the world ... but I have an obligation to at least present it to our membership," Hunter said. "And so that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve got members of our executive board standing behind us, and they all agreed that we needed to sit down and discuss it with all of the reps and collectively decide what it is we should do."

Even if the players agree to the framework of the deal, Hunter said there are at least 30-40 so-called B-list issues that need to be resolved -- among them, the age limit, drug testing, player disciplinary measures and work rules such as practice schedules and days off. In addition, some players and agents will resist the notion of player salaries this season being prorated to 72/82nds based on a reduced schedule that resulted from the owners imposing a lockout -- especially since the big revenue generators like Christmas Day games, All-Star weekend and playoffs will be preserved.


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