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NBA Agents Plan to Discuss Decertification With Union Leader

NBA Executive Director Billy Hunter
NBA executive director Billy Hunter. The NBA locked out its players July 1 following failed negotiations over how to split money from a league that generated about $4.3 billion in revenue last season. Photographer: Mary Altaffer/AP Photo

A number of National Basketball Association player agents will meet with union Executive Director Billy Hunter today to discuss topics that include decertification, two people familiar with the situation said.

Among the agents scheduled to attend the meeting at National Basketball Players Association headquarters in New York are Arn Tellem, whose agency’s clients include league Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, and Mark Bartelstein, who represents David Lee, formerly of the New York Knicks and now with the Golden State Warriors, and Danny Granger of the Indiana Pacers.

The people were granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the meeting publicly. Tellem was traveling and unavailable to comment. Bartelstein and union spokesman Dan Wasserman declined to comment in telephone interviews.

The NBA locked out its players July 1 following failed negotiations over how to split money from a league that generated about $4.3 billion in revenue last season.

Decertification would prevent the union from collectively bargaining with NBA team owners and allow players to sue the league under antitrust laws for unlawful restraint of trade.

The agents and players might push for decertification for two possible reasons, according to Paul Haagen, who teaches contracts and sports law at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

“Decertification is potentially an expression of lack of confidence in the existing union and its effectiveness in negotiation,” Haagen said in a telephone interview. “Or it is a strategy about unions and collective bargaining all together, the belief that it might be better to operate outside of the federal labor laws and have a much more open labor market.”

Unions Questioned

Tellem, who also represents All-Stars Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers and Joe Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks, in a May New York Times editorial said he wondered if some unions in pro sports have outlived their purpose.

“Pro football players voted to decertify their union in March immediately before the owners imposed a long-expected lockout,” Tellem wrote. “Faced with a similar situation, pro basketball players will almost certainly follow suit. As a player agent who represents 45 NBA players, I think they should the moment the current season ends.”

Both the NBA and union said as the lockout approached that they preferred to continue negotiating rather than battle it out in the court system.

That’s what took place in March with the National Football League, whose players association dropped its status as a union after failing to reach its own new labor agreement with the league. Players then filed an antitrust suit against team owners, and the league locked the players out.

Trade Association

The move left the NFL Players Association as a professional trade association. The two sides continued negotiations while proceeding with litigation.

Prior to the NBA lockout, in May, the players’ union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the league failed to bargain in good faith. That allegation has yet to be ruled upon.

Today’s meeting comes on the same day staff members from both the union and the league are scheduled to negotiate in New York during what will be the 22nd day of the NBA lockout.

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