Facing the difficult challenge of keeping the union together in the face of stalled labor talks with the owners, the National Basketball Players Association has recruiited NFL players' union executive director DeMaurice Smith to address locked-out players in Las Vegas Thursday.
A person connected to the NBA talks confirmed that Smith will speak to a gathering of about 70 NBA players at a Las Vegas hotel as players and owners meet separately to brief their constituents on the negotiations. The owners' Board of Governors is meeting Thursday in dallas.
According to SI.com, which first reported Smith's involvement, the invitation came from NBPA president Derek Fisher, who hopes that Smith will be able to explain to the players the importance of remaining united during the lockout. Smith, who directed his first collective bargaining talks with the NFL and secured a new CBA that ended the lockout without losing games, also is expected to tell the players that the NFLPA's strategy of decertification does not necessarily apply in the same way to the NBA talks.
For one, the NFL players faced a collectively bargained deadline to decertify and disband their union in an effort to thwart the owners' lockout. The strategy was never addressed in a broad ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the NFL case, and labor law experts fear such a strategy by the NBA players would be so time consuming that it would jeopardize a significant portion of the season with no guarantees of a favorable ruling in federal court.
Either way, Smith's presence at the critical NBA players' meeting is sure to generate commentary from both sides of the decertification argument. For several high-profile agents pushing for a decertification vote that could topple NBPA chief Billy Hunter, the irony will not be lost that Smith will be preaching unity to the NBA players after following a strategy that temporarily dissolved his own union in the NFL talks.
Fisher and teammate Kobe Bryant are represented by agent Rob Pelinka, who is not among the agents pushing for the union to disband. So you can see where this is going. Fisher is embracing his role as the point man charged with keeping players with varying agendas and pay levels on the same page. Having offered to make an economic move that league negotiators believe would've been an important step in the negotiations, the NBPA is trying to preserve a flexible cap system and thwart the contingent of owners who seem to be willing to lose the entire season over their insistence on instituting a hard salary cap.
To that point, Smith is likely to come away from Thursday's meeting with as much enlightenment as the players listening to him. This NBA labor fight makes the one Smith resolved with the NFL look like a minor disagreement over who picks up the check at one of those cheap, all-you-can-eat Vegas buffets.