We know that representatives for the National Basketball Players' Association are currently mulling David Stern's latest revised proposal to end the NBA lockout, but it remains unclear what path the union will take in response to the current offer. Over the next few days, the union will make decisions on whether to hold a vote to accept the deal in principle, or to file petitions with the National Labor Relations Board to decertify the union, or to issue a dislcaimer of interest from union leaders that would dissolve the union immediately. Unfortunately, the first option is the only one that will lead to NBA basketball any time soon.
Even more unfortunately, the union has reportedly been slow to inform and educate the broader base of players on both the details of the offer and the complete ramifications of the decertification route. The union has been forced to make multiple concessions at the bargaining table (welcome to a labor lockout), and some players seem to think (or have been lead to believe) decertification is a panacea that will turn the tables in the negotiation. In reality, it is just another gamble that might give the players a bit of additional leverage to make some small gains. The potential benefits of the strategy have been accentuated, while the very real risks have been minimized.
Meanwhile, there has been talk that the current offer won't even make it up for an official vote on Monday. The reason it might not happen? Poor organization and education regarding the current situation on the part of union leaders. Consider these comments made by Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick, via Twitter:
To think union membership is struggling to get information on the most important issue of their professional careers is mind boggling, to say the least. As arguments and contentions between the NBA owners and the NBPA have slowly shifted from the Basketball Related Income (BRI) split to the specific form and structure of various salary cap and free agency rules, the material details have multiplied exponentially. No longer is it about a simple number vs. number juxtaposition, it is now about how the league will actually function. Certainly the onus is first on the players to seek out details and avoid emotionally-charged talking points to effortlessly thrown around on Twitter, but a system should have been in place long ago to disseminate vital information upon request or necessity. Let's hope, for everyone's sake, that they can correct these problems in time to have a meaningful discussion on the current offer, because the decision should ultimately be made by the broader base of players.
David Stern has adjusted the most recent proposal in response to the demands of union negotiators, but how far has the league extended their hand across the bargaining table? Ken Berger of CBS Sports and Howard Beck of the New York Times have both provided the following details on how the current offer improves upon the previous one made by the owners:
There is plenty of discussion about whether the deal is enough to meet the expectations of players and achieve ratification in a union vote. Some players are clearly against accepting the current offer, and that group could deliver a petition for a vote to decertify the NBPA as soon as Monday, reports CBS Sports' Ken Berger. Meanwhile, some around the NBA think that union membership should hold a vote on the proposal to cut through the propaganda. David Falk, the former agent of NBA stars Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing and current agent for nine NBA players has said "I think it would be a complete abdication of responsibility as agents for anyone to suggest that the players as a group shouldn't vote on whatever the final proposal is." Frankly, I'm with Falk. Regardless of what the players ultimately decide, at an absolute minimum there should be good faith vote conducted by union membership simply as a matter of procedural correctness.
Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated (the man from the excerpted tweets seen above), has recently heard from NBPA executive director Billy Hunter that he will present membership with an amended version of the league's proposal for a vote on Monday.
"We will vote on the NBA's proposal," Hunter wrote in a text message. "The proposal will be presented with some proposed amendments."
Now this seems like a more reasonable way to create some temporary leverage for the union. In essence, voting on an amended proposal is a way of negotiating in the absence of additional talks. At this point, all of the public pressure and PR hype is squarely focused on the players. Fans, journalists and owners are all looking to the players to make their next move, and the players must actively choose to either jeopardize the season or take the step of facilitating the immediate start of the NBA season. It's not an easy position to be in.
However, assuming the amendments are within a reasonable range of what has been previously discussed at the bargaining table (make no mistake, this is an important qualifier), approval of the amended proposal would turn the table on the entire situation. Suddenly the pressure would be on the owners, who would inherit that problem of having to actively choose between a prolonged dispute and an immediate start to the NBA season. Players, fans and journalists would all be left staring at ownership while awaiting their choice. Rather than negotiate from a point of weakness, the NBPA may be able to manufacture some new power out of whole cloth. It's not a bad idea, but the execution has to be flawless...let's just hope they don't ask for too much in the amendments.
[11/13 Update Number Two]