Tag:Billy Hunter
Posted on: June 8, 2011 8:08 pm
Edited on: June 8, 2011 10:13 pm
 

Players: 'No change at all' in owners' demands

DALLAS – Doom and gloom descended on the NBA’s labor negotiations Wednesday, with union officials revealing that the owners’ original insistence on a hard-cap system with shorter and non-guaranteed contracts has not changed during the 18 months since the bombshell proposal was made.

“There’s no hiding the fact that the main components of what we originally received in their proposal has not changed at all,” said Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the president of the National Basketball Players Association.

That proposal, submitted to the players in January 2010, called for nearly a 40 percent salary rollback derived from a hard-cap system that would eliminate guaranteed contracts, shorten contract length and cut annual raises by as much as two thirds. Despite counterproposals by each side since then and three bargaining sessions during the Finals – including nine hours in the past two days – there has been “little or no movement on the part of the owners,” said Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBPA.

Asked if the owners or their negotiators have directly informed players that they will be locked out July 1 if they do not accept these changes, Fisher said, “Yes they have. That’s the best way I can put it. It’s very clear that if we don’t agree to what we’ve been offered so far, we’re probably facing a lockout.”

The gloomy comments from union officials came a day after NBA commissioner David Stern stated that he was “optimistic” a deal could be achieved before the current agreement expires June 30. But given the negotiating details revealed by the players, it would appear clear that this optimism relates to Stern’s belief that the players will cave – not that a compromise will be reached.

So apparently, Stern misspoke when he said Tuesday the owners and players were continuing to negotiate in hopes of achieving a "breakthrough" in the talks. What he really meant was a breakdown in the players' insistence on keeping the system largely the way it is.

"Our owners are thoroughly united in the need for change and also completely behind our various proposals as we seek to compromise with the players," Stern said Wednesday.

But compromise on what? The date and time of the players' surrender?

Given that the players have filed an unfair labor practices charge against the owners, accusing them of not negotiating in good faith, NBPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler openly questioned whether the owners simply repeating their demands amounts to negotiation.

“We just are discouraged because there’s been so little movement from their side, which makes us wonder what their real intentions are,” Kessler said.

Stern tempered his optimism Wednesday, saying the two sides remain “very far apart. … Both sides have moved, but we’re not anywhere close to a deal.”

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s bargaining session, Hunter said one owner stated that he was pessimistic that a deal would be reached by the end of the month – a possibility that would result in a lockout, and presumably an anti-trust lawsuit from the players seeking to adopt the strategy implemented by NFL players, which is pending on appeal with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I’m forced to share that sentiment,” Hunter said. “It’s going to be a difficult struggle.”

A formal counterproposal made by the players last week in Miami was countered by the owners this week – though each side agreed to put these verbal proposals in writing before meeting twice more next week. The first meeting will be Tuesday, in Miami if the NBA Finals requires seven games, or in New York if it doesn’t. Another session is scheduled for Friday in New York.

“As long as there’s negotiation, I’m optimistic,” Stern said. “If we were at a point where it didn’t pay to have negotiations, we wouldn’t be planning meetings for Tuesday and Friday of next week. Neither side is posturing.”

Knicks guard Roger Mason, a member of the players’ executive committee, emerged from Wednesday’s four-hour session and said, “This is going to be a scenario where the players are going to have to sacrifice. I think at the end of the day, owners are probably going to have to sacrifice as well.”

It hasn’t happened yet, and the clock is ticking toward labor Armageddon for a sport that is enjoying a new zenith of popularity and international interest. Shortly after union officials finished addressing the media at the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas, the NBA distributed a news release with the latest astronomical TV ratings for the NBA Finals – which through four games are averaging 15.5 million viewers, the most-watched Finals since 2004.

“The owners say that they don’t want their own game if the players won’t agree to radically change the system,” said Kessler, who also is litigating the NFL labor dispute, which is bogged down in the federal courts. “It’s an odd position when the game is the best it’s ever been, when the ratings are the highest they’ve ever been, when the excitement is the greatest it’s ever been. It’s sort of odd to see the owners say, ‘We’re going to destroy this game unless you change this whole system.’”

Since their initial proposal, the owners have proposed phasing in their draconian changes, a concession that was not viewed as such by the players, since a hard-cap system would by definition require grandfathering in existing contracts that do not fit under the $45 million hard cap proposed by the owners. Stern's negotiators have proposed a two-year phase-in of their new system on a 10-year CBA. The players are not only adamantly opposed to a hard cap and 10-year deal, but also reluctant to accept what sources described as an 8 percent giveback in Year 1, a 13 percent giveback in Year 2, and a 39 percent reduction in salaries thereafter under the phase-in compromise.

While sources say owners have yet to clearly explain their insistence on using a hard cap to bridge the approximately $750-$800 million gap between the two sides, the players have proposed what appear to be little more than incremental changes that would leave most of the existing soft-cap/luxury tax system in place. The players' most recent proposal to accept a reduction in their 57 percent share of basketball-related income as revenues rise was described this week by Stern as "tiny" and insufficient to get a deal done.

 
Posted on: June 7, 2011 8:01 pm
Edited on: June 8, 2011 2:35 am
 

Stern: No agreement, but seeking 'breakthrough'

DALLAS – With both sides determined to reach what commissioner David Stern described as a “breakthrough” in labor talks, NBA owners and players negotiated for more than five hours Tuesday in the second of three scheduled sessions during the Finals.

Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver both said they were optimistic that the negotiations have continued, with a second full-day session featuring nearly the full negotiating committees on both sides scheduled for Wednesday. National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter did not address reporters after the meeting at the Dallas Hilton Anatole, and players leaving the session said they would speak Wednesday.

“We haven’t reached agreement on anything and we have a deal that there will never be an agreement to be spoken about until we have an agreement on everything,” Stern said.

UPDATE: Why is there so much to talk about? Sources told CBSSports.com that the players made a formal counterproposal last week in Miami -- the first such proposal since the owners made their second proposal in April. Sources were reluctant to discuss details of the players' plan, since much of the time in bargaining sessions during the Finals has been spent explaining the details and responding to the owners' questions about it. But one detail, CBSSports.com has learned, is a sliding-scale model for the players' share of basketball-related income (BRI), where the players would take a reduced share of the pie if revenues went up.

In view of the NFL labor talks getting bogged down in the courts and mediation, Stern said there was “expressed determination on both sides to reach a compromise and accommodation with each other.” The language suggested a further softening of the public rhetoric, though Stern described the tone of the negotiations as “in the language of diplomacy, open and frank.”

“I just take it as a real positive that we’re continuing to meet,” Stern said. “When you have parties like this, it’s just as easy if you don’t think that there’s a possibility of a breakthrough to say, ‘All right, let’s pack it in and let’s go home.’ But nobody on either side wanted to go home.”

Echoing Hunter’s comment from last week’s bargaining session in Miami, Silver said a third day of meetings in Dallas could be scheduled for Thursday depending on how Wednesday’s session goes.

Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who represents players in both the NFL and NBA bargaining talks, opted to attend Tuesday's NBA session in Dallas rather than an unmediated NFL meeting at an undisclosed location. 

Stern said the meeting consisted of a “wide-ranging discussion” of the biggest issues separating the two sides: the system under which the league operates, with owners wanting a hard or harder cap with reductions in salaries and guarantees, and the split of revenues between owners and players. Players currently receive 57 percent of basketball-related income (BRI) after certain expenses are deducted. Owners want more expenses deducted and have thus far scoffed at the players’ offer to negotiate a reduction in their share of revenues.

“There were a lot of questions asked today,” Silver said. “There were questions – owners to players trying to understand what their concerns are and help us prioritize what their issues are, and players to owners as well. The owners and players did a lot of talking today.”

Approximately eight players attended the bargaining session, including union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers, who had a prior commitment and could not attend last week’s session in Miami. In attendance for the owners’ labor relations committee were were chairman Peter Holt (Spurs), Mickey Arison (Heat), Mark Cuban (Mavericks), Glen Taylor (Timberwolves), Jeanie Buss (Lakers), James Dolan (Knicks), Robert Sarver (Suns), Clay Bennett (Thunder), Bob Vander Weide (Magic), and Larry Miller (Trail Blazers).

Tempering the optimism and momentum that has been built with 23 days before the current collective bargaining agreement expires was Stern’s dismissal of an idea first floated by the players two weeks ago at a small bargaining session in New York: the revised BRI split based on an increase in revenues. Stern called the proposal “a tiny part” of the negotiation.

“There needs to be a very significant restructuring in order for the owners to have a sustainable investment here, hopefully approaching $5 billion of revenue,” Stern said. “So incremental stuff isn’t going to do the deal.”
Posted on: June 1, 2011 8:18 pm
Edited on: June 1, 2011 8:43 pm
 

Hunter: 'Hopeful' new CBA deal can be reached

MIAMI – Billy Hunter emerged from a four-hour bargaining session among NBA players and owners Wednesday and proclaimed that he was “hopeful” that a deal could be reached to avert a lockout before the collective bargaining agreement expires on June 30.

This from the same executive director of the National Basketball Players Association who only weeks ago stated that, if given the choice between the owners’ revised proposal and a lockout, “We’d welcome a lockout.”

So why the reason for hope? Two subtle, but potentially important things. First, the bargaining session added to the schedule Wednesday during the Finals was in addition to two meetings previously scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday in Dallas. After a smaller session in New York last week in which the players proposed some new “concepts” for bridging the enormous gap between the two sides, the dialogue was deemed positive enough to accelerate the talks. Hunter even hinted Wednesday that another session could be added next week if the progress continues.

“If necessary, we’ll stay a third day (in Dallas),” Hunter said. “And we’re going to put in as much time as we have just to see if we can make any progress.”

Second, the substance of what the players proposed – though closely guarded by the two sides – may have opened the door for a breakthrough in the talks. Only vague details of the players’ new proposed ideas have been revealed, but sources say their approach was designed as a two-pronged solution: 1) an alternative to a hard-cap system that would give the owners another path to reach their goals while maintaining some elements of the current soft-cap system; and 2) a revised split of basketball-related income that would do the same.

The players currently receive 57 percent of BRI after certain expenses are deducted. The owners want more expenses deducted, while the players have signaled they are willing to negotiate a reduced guarantee of their portion of revenues.

Is this progress? Both sides agree the time is now – before the CBA expires in less than 30 days – to find out. Next week’s bargaining sessions in Dallas could very well provide the tipping point in negotiations that will either result in the NBA continuing its rapid and upward ascent of doing what commissioner David Stern described as “falling into the abyss.”

“The question is, what kind of compromise is each side prepared to make,” Stern said. “It may not be enough on either side, but we’re going to give it a shot.”

Said Hunter: “We know that the pressure’s building and if anything’s going to happen, it’s going to happen between now and (June) 30. We’re going to make every effort to see if we can reach a deal. If we don’t, we don’t. But it’s not going to be for a lack of trying.”

Stern said the players’ revised concept “gave us some ideas,” but did not result in any discussion about whether owners were willing to move off their insistence on a $45 million hard cap. There remains a “very substantial gap” between the two negotiation positions, Stern said.

“It’s still our hope that there may be a deal here to be done,” Stern said. “We’re going to test it to the limits. If we’re wrong, we’re wrong. But I think Billy feels the same way.”

Knicks guard Roger Mason, one of three vice president of the players’ executive committee in attendance, said revenue sharing among owners was a significant part of the discussion Wednesday.

“It’s encouraging to see the Dolans and the bigger-market teams receptive to that idea,” Mason said. “So without going into detail, that’s obviously the case and it’s a good sign. … Obviously we’re still apart on key issues, but we want to get a deal done as players. We don’t want to get locked out and I think the owners don’t want to lock us out as well. Those are two positives and we have a lot of work to do over the next month.”

Bucks guard Keyon Dooling called the bargaining session “constructive.” Union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers was on a previously scheduled family vacation and did not attend the bargaining session, which included most members of the owners' labor relations committee.

“Both sides will have to work together,” Dooling said. “It’s not going to be a situation where one side triumphs (over) the other one and just destroys everything. A lot of people worked hard on both sides – Mr. Stern to grow the game and the players being a product of the game. We need each other. They’re the platform, we’re the product. We’ve got to find that balance.”

And they have less than 30 days to do it.
Posted on: May 30, 2011 7:01 pm
Edited on: May 30, 2011 7:04 pm
 

30 days to the lockout: momentum, but no progress

MIAMI – Driven by record TV ratings in the conference finals and worldwide interest in the Miami Heat’s quest for a championship, the NBA will embark Tuesday on a heavily anticipated NBA Finals. It should be good, and it better be. This could be the last competitive NBA event for a long time.

The Heat vs. the Mavericks promises the kind of drama that can cement a sport in the nation’s consciousness for years. And yet the league continues to face the very real possibility of a work stoppage, with the negotiating clock at T-minus 30 days and counting.

Publicly, the signals have been decidedly mixed since All-Star weekend in Los Angeles about whether a lockout – presumed inevitable for at least a year – can be averted. The rhetoric was significantly softened at All-Star weekend in February, and deputy commissioner Adam Silver made the most optimistic comments to date at the draft lottery in Secaucus, N.J., earlier this month, saying the “throttle is down” on efforts to hammer out a deal before the current one expires June 30.

But those olive branches subsequently were snapped in two by National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, who has described the owners’ revised proposal – in which they offered the non-offer of phasing in their draconian changes over several years – as worse than the original one. Last week, the NBPA filed an unfair labor practices charge against the NBA with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging, among other things, that owners have not negotiated in good faith or provided suitable financial proof of their claims that the league is losing hundreds of millions a year under the current system.

So where are we? Thirty days out from what would be a debilitating and foolish display of stubbornness by both sides, sources familiar with the negotiating climate say it isn’t time to panic – but that time is coming soon.

“If there’s going to be a deal, I would say there are tipping points," one person familiar with the negotiations told CBSSports.com. "One tipping point is June 30. Once you get past June 30, people are inclined to sit around until the next tipping point, which is September.”

While the two sides remain far apart on the issues of a hard cap, reduced player salaries and an eventual elimination of guaranteed contracts, they at least are in agreement that they are farther along in negotiations than they were prior to the 1998-99 lockout, which resulted in a 50-game season. But one of the people familiar with the talks said there has been less progress at this point than there was in 2005, when noxious lockout fumes were in the air and catastrophe was averted with a surprise agreement during the NBA Finals. The owners, clearly, are no longer celebrating that victory, since they are trying to detonate most aspects of the deal that was ratified at that time.

Representatives for the owners and players met for a small bargaining session last week in New York, and a larger session is scheduled when the Finals shift to Dallas for the middle three games next week. Despite immense differences, the dialogue has been consistent for weeks – proof that neither side likes its chances if the dispute follows the NFL path to the courts.

“I think everybody is taking every opportunity right now to see if something can be done without a whole lot of distractions and rhetoric,” a person familiar with the negotiations said.

Developments in the NFL lockout have affected the NBA talks in significant ways. The NFL players’ initial victory in having their decertification validated in court, followed by the owners’ victory in temporarily preventing the lockout from being lifted, has only underscored the notion that commissioner David Stern and Hunter do not want this negotiation taken out of their hands and into the hands of politically appointed judges they don’t know. In some ways, both understand they’ll get a better deal through negotiation between now and July 1 than they’ll get in a courtroom after months of negative publicity and venom.

A ruling on the NBPA’s unfair labor practices charge isn’t expected for 6-8 weeks, sources say, which means the owners may have to decide to impose a lockout without knowing the outcome of the ruling. But the NLRB charge, sources say, has more to do with leverage than outcome. By putting their complaints in writing, the players have put the onus on both sides to hold good-faith negotiations and exchange legitimate proposals until the current deal expires.

“It puts the onus on both sides not to stall,” said another person familiar with the bargaining talks.

Of more importance is a ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on the validity of the NFL lockout. Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard June 3, with a ruling possible before the NBA lockout begins. If the appeals court upholds the portion of U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson’s ruling that proclaimed the NFL lockout of a decertified union illegal, leverage in the NBA negotiations would swing significantly toward the players. At that point, the proverbial throttle would be pushed even harder toward a negotiated deal; why would NBA owners want to follow the same futile path through the courts that foiled their NFL counterparts?

A ruling in favor of the owners in the Eighth Circuit would shift the leverage to the NBA owners, and raise the chances of a lockout to a near certainty.

But while there is no disputing the communication and momentum, there are a few problems with comparing the NBA’s current situation to the NFL’s – or even the NBA’s in 1998 and 2005. As for the NFL comparison, legal experts believe the NBA owners would have a better case in the courts because they are claiming to be losing millions under the current system – and have provided audited financial statements and tax returns to prove it. NFL owners don’t claim to be losing money; they just want to make more.

As for comparing this to the NBA’s ’98 or ’05 negotiations, the NBA is in a different place than it was then. In ’98, salaries were out of control and the game was about to embark on the uncertain journey of life without Michael Jordan. In ’05, owners were looking for tweaks to the ’99 agreement. Now, they are looking to permanently and dramatically alter the landscape of the sport.

Which they most certainly will do with a prolonged lockout. They will forfeit the lofty place in the sports world that the NBA finally has attained after the golden era of Magic and Bird and the golden goose that was Jordan. The Finals begin in about 24 hours, but it’s T-minus 30 days and counting to the showdown that matters a lot more.
Posted on: May 17, 2011 11:25 am
 

Hall, top NBPA lawyer, dies at 67


Gary Hall, general counsel for the National Basketball Players Association, died Sunday night at his apartment in New York City. He was 67.

The top lawyer for the players' association, Hall was friends with union chief Billy Hunter for more than 30 years. Funeral arrangements are pending.

“We were longtime friends and he was an excellent attorney,” Hunter told the Syracuse Post-Standard. “He was an outstanding lawyer, and he was extremely bright.”

Hunter and Hall met when Hunter was U.S. Attorney in San Francisco and worked together there at the Justice Department from 1978-85. Hunter hired Hall as general counsel of the NBPA in November 2005.

Hall had not been ill, and the cause of death is unknown, according to a person who knew the prominent Syracuse-area attorney. Hall would have played a key role in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement. The current deal, ratified in 2005, expires July 1.

 
Category: NBA
Posted on: April 25, 2011 7:49 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2011 8:00 pm
 

NFL ruling a victory for NBA players

The ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson putting a temporary end to the NFL lockout also was, by extension, a victory for the National Basketball Players Association in its ongoing labor negotiation with the NBA. 

In legitimizing the NFL players' move to dissolve their union in the face of the owners' lockout, and granting an injunction to end the lockout pending appeal, Nelson dealt a legal blow to both sports leagues in their efforts to use a lockout as a weapon in collective bargaining. 

"This is a victory for all professional sports unions," said Gabe Feldman, head of the Sports Law Center at Tulane University. 

Top officials with the NBA and NBPA were reading every word of Nelson's opinion Monday, but the upshot for the NBA's labor negotiation was clear and resounding: If the NBPA elects to decertify -- in effect, dissolving the union and forfeiting the ability to collectively bargain contracts and work rules -- then Nelson's ruling will stand as federal precedent rendering moot the NBA's presumed tactic of imposing a lockout. The NBA's collective bargaining agreement expires at 12:01 a.m. on July 1. 

Anticipating a lockout, the NBPA already has collected enough signatures to approve a vote for decertification, sources told CBSSports.com. Both sides in the NBA labor negotiation have been closely monitoring the NFL labor case, and top NBA negotiators for more than a year have been holding out hope that a decertification by the players would be ruled a "sham" by federal courts. 

But Nelson, the U.S. District Court Judge in Minneapolis, recognized the NFL players' decertification and created a precedent that has conclusive implications for a similar anti-trust lawsuit in the NBA. The NFL quickly announced that it will seek an immediate stay of Nelson's ruling and appeal to a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will render final judgment. 

Thus, the victory for NFL and NBA players "could be short-lived," Feldman said. "If the case stands up on appeal, it gives player unions a significant, though costly, weapon to use as leverage in labor negotiations." 

Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBPA, told SI.com that the decision was "a great ruling for the players. But it's like the first round of a 15-round fight." Hunter expects a stay to be granted.

"What it does is put pressure on us to sit down and settle this," Hunter said. "We just want a fair deal."

If NBA owners and players are not able to reach a new collective bargaining agreement by July 1, owners could still impose a lockout. But Nelson's ruling, if upheld on appeal, would make the tactic a moot point. After decertifying, NBA players could file an anti-trust lawsuit in any federal jurisdiction where the NBA does business, but almost certainly would seek out the same court that ruled in the NFL players' favor. 

If you're a lawyer or have too much time on your hands, you can read Nelson's 89-page opinion here.

Over the past week, NBA commissioner David Stern has substantially ratcheted down his rhetoric, saying at a Board of Governors meeting in New York and during a playoff media appearance in Philadelphia that a federal court case and potential National Labor Relations Board dispute "should be avoided." Stern said he and Hunter are in agreement that having their sport's future taken out of their hands and placed under the authority of the NLRB and/or federal courts would not be desirable. 

"The NFL is sort of out there on display," Stern said last Thursday night in Philadelphia. "Here they are, they're profitable, but their future somehow is involved in some combination of court cases and NLRB proceedings. On behalf of the NBA -- and I believe, Billy, on behalf of the union -- (we) understand that's a route that should be avoided." 

The NBA and NBPA now will wait potentially several weeks for the Eighth Circuit to rule on the NFL's appeal. In the meantime, Stern said after the most recent Board of Governors meeting in New York that owners intend to submit a second proposal to the players within the next two weeks. As of Monday, sources said that proposal has yet to be submitted. 

The two sides in the NBA negotiation remain miles apart on key issues ranging from contract lengths and guarantees to a proposal by owners to scrap the soft-cap/luxury tax system and replace it with a hard cap with no exceptions. Owners have internally discussed a willingness to phase in their changes over several years, but that has yet to soften the players' opposition. Owners and players also continue to disagree strongly on the issue of how much money NBA teams are losing. Stern said recently that 22 of the league's 30 teams are expected to lose money this season, to the tune of $300 million. 

NBA owners also seek to change the formula used to determine how much revenue is paid to the players as salary -- known as basketball-relate income, or BRI. Players currently receive 57 percent of BRI, net some expenses, but owners want to net out significantly more expenses before dividing up what's left between players and teams. In their counterproposal to the owners, the NBPA expressed a willingness to discuss a reduction in the players' share of BRI -- an offer that has been met with resistance from the owners, who say it costs too much to generate the revenue players receive.
Posted on: March 30, 2011 5:12 pm
 

Sources: NBA sends '09-'10 data to union

NEW YORK -- In another baby step in NBA labor talks, the league has furnished long-awaited financial data for the 2009-10 season to the National Basketball Players Association, which has begun a review of the documents, two people familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com Tuesday.

The data are crucial to both sides as they prepare for more heated negotiations that center on the financial health of the sport. Owners are seeking massive changes to the collective bargaining agreement, which expires June 30, based on their contention that the current model is not sustainable due to annual league-wide losses approaching $400 million. The NBPA, however, contends that the sport is healthier than the owners are willing to admit, citing last season's record revenues -- which are detailed in the documents furnished to the union in recent days.

Sources told CBSSports.com that high-ranking union officials have yet to analyze the documents, which will be added to a treasure trove of financial data the NBA has turned over to support its case for a massive reduction in player salaries and a hard salary cap to replace the current luxury tax-based system loaded with spending exceptions. Unlike the NFL in its labor fight with players, the NBA has been forthcoming with financial data, including audited tax returns from all 30 teams.

While the 2009-10 data are expected to support the union's belief that revenues remain robust and at record levels, the owners' case hinges on their assertion that costs are too high. While the '09-'10 data have not been fully vetted, they are expected to reflect an approximately $100 million decline in gate receipts, which was offset by a $130 million increase in non-ticket revenues, according to a person familiar with the league's finances. The $30 million net increase in revenues represents approximately a 1 percent rise from 2008-09, during the depths of the economic recession. During the same period, negotiated player salaries have decreased $120 million, the person familiar with league finances said.

While owners and league negotiators have long countered that a decrease in negotiated salaries is irrelevant because players are guaranteed 57 percent of basketball-related income (BRI), the players' association indicated in its July 1 proposal a willingness to negotiate a reduction in that guarantee. Nine months later, the owners have yet to come back to the table with a formal counterproposal.

NBPA executive director Billy Hunter, who had been out of the office and was unaware the league had sent the '09-'10 financial data when he spoke recently with CBSSports.com on various labor issues, is said to be preparing for an April meeting with commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver. Such a meeting, which has yet to be officially scheduled, could set the tone for negotiators on both sides as time begins to run out to achieve a compromise before a lockout would occur upon the expiration of the current agreement at midnight June 30. 

It is unclear when the heavy hitters in the NBA's labor fight will have clarity about the success or failure of the NFL players' attempt to thwart a lockout by decertifying their union. A hearing in the NFL decertification case is scheduled for April 6 in federal court in Minneapolis, but a ruling could take several weeks, sources say.










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. 

Related links

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