Powerful NBA agents have urged Billy Hunter, head of the players union, to follow the strategy the NFL players used and try his luck in court to bring an end to the lockout with the NBA owners. Instead, NBA Commissioner David Stern has gone that route, filing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board and a lawsuit in the federal district court of New York.
The league filed the lawsuits against the union after an unsuccessful negotiating session last week, the first since the lockout took effect July 1. Stern left the meeting, alleging that Hunter and the players were not bargaining in good faith. Hunter reacted to Stern’s comments by declaring that the likelihood was higher than ever that there will not be a 2011-12 NBA season.
The owners, who claim $300 million in losses last season, want the players to take reduced salaries and a hard salary cap in the next collective bargaining agreement. The union disagrees with the league’s proposal, arguing that increased revenue sharing amongst the teams could help alleviate some of the losses.
The NBA named 13 individual players as defendants in its lawsuit. Each of the 13 represents NBA players in different situations, such as rookies, free agents, superstars and role players. Stern said that the lawsuit was “preventative legal medicine,” seeking a declaration that the lockout doesn’t violate antitrust laws.
The league also hopes for a ruling that would ensure that if the union decides to go the decertification route that all current NBA contracts will be voided, based on the fact that those contracts were signed under the old collective bargaining agreement.
During the lockout, many NBA players have been seeking overseas employment. The union and Hunter have encouraged this migration, especially as the possibility of next season being played becomes less and less likely. Many mid-tier players are securing overseas contracts with a special “out” clause that will allow them to return to their NBA teams if the lockout is resolved.
Commissioner Stern doesn’t believe that these overseas moves are advantageous and says they will split the union and weaken its bargaining power. However, many NBA superstars are now receiving lucrative offers from countries such as Israel, Turkey, and China, and the opportunity to expand their worldwide brand may be too good to pass up, especially with the blessing of the union.
Of course, to reach a compromise both sides must be willing to bargain for the items most important to them. So far, the NBA owners seem unable to accept that the player’s union will never agree to across-the-board changes in the economic structure of the league. The owners also are reluctant to include revenue sharing in the talks, even though a better distribution of wealth could help small market teams compete better with larger markets.
A factor in all this is the NFL’s new agreement with players. That arrangement puts pressure on the owners in the NBA while it encourages players in their belief that it shouldn’t be hard for NBA franchises to make do with a smaller pie.