Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What NBA players' union? The decertification effort - and a possible replacement effort


Hope you like college basketball. It looks more and more like that will be the major basketball entertainment in the United States this year. The NBA players' union is decertifying:

The union has abandoned its right to negotiate on behalf of the players in order to sue the NBA in antitrust court for massive damages within the next 48 hours, according to its revamped legal team. The players in attendance said the decision was unanimous — that the league had backed them into a corner with ultimatum after ultimatum, even after the players gave back the equivalent of nearly $3 billion over a 10-year deal by lowering their locked-in share of the league’s revenue. That move covered the league’s annual losses of $300 million, which union chief Billy Hunter again characterized as “exaggerated.”...

The move will shift the process from the bargaining room to the court system, endangering the season and infuriating Stern, who said on ESPN minutes after the union’s announcement that players had “been badly misled.” Stern dismissed the union’s move as a negotiating ploy that had been in the works since at least February 2010, when Kessler, in Stern’s telling, informed the commissioner that the union would go this route if talks broke down.

And while comparison was made to the NHL season, which was lost, comparison was also made to the NFL's legal wranglings in the courtroom earlier this year, which may not necessarily be a precedent for what will happen with the NBA.

Labor experts say the appellate ruling that reinstated the NFL’s lockout, after a lower court halted it, is a tricky opinion that did not provide the complete victory the NFL sought. Legal precedent for this kind of case is thin....

Speaking of precedent, what about the use of replacement players? If the NBA can't get these players to play, then how about grabbing some other ones who would presumably play for much lower salaries?

One would think that since this is a lockout (imposed by the owners) rather than a strike (instigated by the players), this option wouldn't work. But in this labor fight, anything is possible. The NFL action earlier this year was also a lockout, but the NFL owners were not willing to say that they COULDN'T use replacement players.

It would presumably take a good deal of lawyering to get this to happen, but if Michael Jordan and other new owners want to get some revenue coming in, and if they want to enforce a lower percentage, why not get some new players to do it?

One potential issue is that the NBA, more than any other league, is star-driven. But the use of replacement players could be very effective, if employed. It was certainly effective during the 1987 NFL dispute:

While the strikers lost an average of $15,000 per game (approximately $80 million in salaries altogether), the average owner's profit per game actually rose from $800,000 before the work stoppage to $921,000 during the strike....

Realizing they had no chance of winning concessions, the union's representatives voted to return to work on Thursday, October 15.

Now in this case I'm not sure what will happen with the TV revenue. If the NBA has to make up the lost games to the networks, there could be a loss in that department. But if the move results in the NBA's preferred 47-53 scenario, it could pay off in the end.

Of course, the NFL owners got to twist the knife one more time in that instance.

However, the owners refused to allow the last holdouts to play the following Sunday, costing them another paycheck.

And I wouldn't put it past the NBA owners to pull something like that again.

For the record, when Stern was recently asked about replacement players, he said that it was premature to talk about that. But it's probably being discussed behind closed doors.
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