So it comes to this. Reports from around the league indicate that a group of at least 50 NBA players convened two conference calls recently to seriously explore decertification of the players union. As ESPN “capologist” and all around smart dude Larry Coon writes, the development is a “game changer.”
Indeed, it seems to be the last card in the players’ hands as they try and move the owners off of their hardline 50-50 revenue split stance heading into a scheduled negotiating session on Saturday. If this doesn’t work it seems there will be approximately zero games this NBA (un)season. And while you might call it the mother of all negotiating tactics on the part of the players, it could seriously blow up in their faces.
But why is decertification such a big deal? Because the instant the players union dissolves the NBA is vulnerable to antitrust lawsuits. And anybody who believes that a group of 30 sports owners that set parameters on maximum and minimum salaries, stipulate who qualifies for entry into the league and has to approve of anyone who wants to join their club isn’t vulnerable to an antitrust lawsuit is on some serious stuff.
But will it make David Stern and the owners blink? I’m not so sure. Once decertficiation occurs and the lawsuits begin, the players are guaranteeing themselves years of litigation. To put it mildly, the several hundred professional basketball players that make up the NBA cannot afford to sit on the sidelines for a number of years. Careers are short and too many players spend their money too foolishly to comfortably ride this process out. So even while this looks like a giant bit of leverage for the players, I’m not so sure.
NBA owners are not billionaires because they own sports franchises. They own sports franchises because they are billionaires. They have myriad sources of income and while losing a season, or several, will hurt the bottom line, they can carry on. And with the ease at which top lawyers will be able to drag these lawsuits on and on, there is no way an antitrust case will live to see completion. A deal will be made and it will almost certainly be on the owners’ terms.
The only hope is that the owners feel like they’ve already won. They’ve extracted huge concessions from the players. From maximum salary length, to salary cap to the split of basketball income, the owners have won, won and won. Perhaps a hardline 50-50 stance on splitting revenue was a front that the owners were remarkably good at holding and now they are ready to “concede” to a number between the 50 percent and 52.5 percent that the players are fighting for. Remember, in the previous collective bargaining agreement the players received 57 percent. The nearly 5 percent they’ve already conceded is already worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the NBA owners.
Either way, I think NBA fans around the world are going to get a much better idea of what the landscape will look like after this weekend.