During a series of meetings in which union officials are updating players on the status of collective bargaining this week, one voice stood out: that of Kobe Bryant.
Before a star-studded audience of about 75 players in Los Angeles Tuesday, Bryant was “up front” and “deliberate” in a speech in which he urged players to maintain solidarity and “stand behind the union” during the lockout, according to a person who was in attendance. Sources told CBSSports.com that another test of that solidarity could come next week, as top union officials were authorized Wednesday to contact deputy commissioner Adam Silver in the hopes of scheduling a bargaining session in New York before the end of the month.
Bryant and Paul Pierce told players Tuesday it was important for them to “remain united” in the face of a lockout that has dragged well into its second month with only one full-scale bargaining session, the person who attended the meeting said. Among the players in attendance were Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon of the Clippers, Elton Brand of the 76ers, Tyson Chandler of the Mavericks, Russell Westbrook and James Harden of the Thunder and Corey Maggette of the Bobcats.
Contacted for comment on the player meetings, union chief Billy Hunter said he also briefed a contingent of about 20 agents on the status of negotiations Tuesday before traveling to Las Vegas, where he was meeting with about 35 players Wednesday. Hunter also will meet with players next week in Houston, Chicago and New York.
“Our message is that there’ve been several proposals back and forth, and the last proposal by the NBA would be a giveback of $8 billion over 10 years,” Hunter told CBSSports.com. “The players understand and they’re supportive.”
Hunter said there was a “divergence of opinion” among the agents about the National Basketball Players Association’s decision not to disclaim interest in representing the players – and the players’ decision not to decertify. Some high-profile agents have clamored for decertification, which would send the dispute to the federal court system under antitrust law. Hunter has so far resisted, preferring to explore the possibly more expeditious path to an injunction lifting the lockout, which could result if the union is successful in getting the National Labor Relations Board to issue an unfair labor practices complaint against the NBA.
Sources said NLRB investigators are expected to wrap up the evidence-gathering phase as early as next week and would then have all the information they need to render a decision on the players’ charge.
Though NBA commissioner David Stern is expected to be away on vacation, sources also told CBSSports.com that the two sides are trying to reconvene for a high-level bargaining session next week in New York. If league and union officials can agree on the scheduling details, it would be the first full-scale bargaining session since Aug. 1 – and the first since the NBA filed a federal lawsuit and an NLRB charge accusing the players of failing to bargain in good faith. Both legal actions were filed on Aug. 2, one day after Stern said the players were not bargaining in good faith.
It remains to be seen whether the players’ desire to meet next week will result in a productive negotiating session or more mudslinging. Stern accused the players of canceling a bargaining session last week while Hunter was involved with four days of appearances before the NLRB. Sources said an offer by the union to hold a staff-level bargaining session was rejected by the league, and that Hunter was told Stern would be away on vacation this week and next.
Clearly, Stern could easily return to New York for a bargaining session regardless of his vacation plans. So it’s a matter of will on both sides – and a question of whether anything has changed since the fruitless session on Aug. 1. Answer: Probably not. Not yet.