50 players and a handful of agents are at least exploring the option of dissolving the players union to gain leverage in the NBA labor negotiations. If the league calls their bluff, this season is toast.
The latest scuttlebutt on the NBA's epic lockout comes from the players side. According to several reports, 50 NBA players took part in a conference call with an antitrust lawyer to discuss the possibility of decertification for the union. In order to properly understand what this means, we need to look at the mechanics of decertification.
First, the players in the union need to have 30% of the players sign a petition requesting a vote to dissolve the union. If they get the 30%, then the matter goes to the National Labor Relations Board who will take about 45 days to decide whether the union can vote to decertify or not. If they are allowed to vote, they'd need a majority vote to pass it.
First of all, this group of 50 players (and their power agents), need to obtain an additional 85 signatures to reach 30%. If they clear that hurdle and the NLRB okays the vote, then they need to get a total of 225 (give or take a couple) players to willingly give up an entire year of their careers. This isn't the same thing as the NFLPA decertification. The NFL players acted early, hoping to create leverage (which never materialized), but leaving plenty of time to clean up their mess and save the season. NFL players weren't gambling much, considering they had non-guaranteed contracts. Make no mistake, every NBA players who votes affirmative to decertification will be signing away his entire salary for the 2011-2012 season. The calender just won't allow for anything else. If they get the signatures tomorrow, the vote probably couldn't be held until late December. The cutoff date for the entire season was early January in 1998 and you'd have to assume that date hasn't changed much.
It's safe to say the players realize what this step means, or at least they should. As a bargaining tactic, I'm not sure exactly how useful the threat of decertification is going to be at this point. The owners haven't blinked yet, while multiple reports have hinted at fractures of the unity on the players' side. Billy Hunter loves to point out the average NBA career lasts only four years. How legitimate is this threat if half of the union is going have to actively vote to forfeit 25% of their lifetime earnings in the league?
If the union follow this through, if they refuse to budge from their 52% demands and the owners stick to their guns as well, the season is toast and both sides will really get what they deserve. The decertification will turn into a giant court battle, a battle the NFL players lost, but the NBA will have 8 or 9 months to sort it out before next season is in jeopardy. There's one other difference, when decertification was first discussed for the NBA, there were reports that every contract could be torn up because the terms of the previous CBA were negotiated with a union which no longer exists. There remains the possibility that every player could become a free agent, or maybe teams could use this power surgically, excising every mistake from their rosters and starting fresh with their new cap space.
It's hard to predict the reaction of an average fan as a blogger. The NBA is clearly a stronger league than the NHL was when they lost a season, and if the entire year is lost I know I'll be coming back - perhaps with a little less fervor - whenever games are played again, but the NHL took a serious hit when they lost a year. There's just no way to tell what would happen to the game if the season is lost, the only thing that seems clear right now is the fan reaction is extremely low on the list of priorities for both sides.
I have only one request as a fan. Before the league calls for a vote to dissolve the union, I'd like them to be forced to vote on the proposal the owners currently have on the table. A 50/50 BRI split with the system largely in place. I have a feeling given the choice, the owners proposal would get the majority.