Let the decertification talk commence.
One day after National Basketball Players Association president Derek Fisher pushed back against the agents who are pushing for the disbanding of the union in the ongoing NBA lockout, the very movement that Fisher was trying to stop grew significantly larger with the addition of just one agent.
According to two sources close to the situation, the agent for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and many more stars, CAA lead man Leon Rose, has privately made it known that he is in favor of the strategy that union officials have consistently resisted and deemed a "nuclear option." It's a potentially significant addition to a camp that already included a number of the most influential agents in the game, among them Arn Tellem (Wasserman Media Group), Dan Fegan (Lagardere Unlimited), Bill Duffy (BDA Sports), Mark Bartelstein (Priority Sports), and Jeff Schwartz (Excel Sports Management).
Numerous attempts to contact Rose for comment were unsuccessful.
Advocates of decertification see it as a last-ditch effort for badly-needed leverage, with the hope that the league's owners would come to a much greater compromise in negotiations once they realize the players are willing to sacrifice some of, if not all, of the season. Unless union executive director Billy Hunter changes his long-held stance against decertification, 30 percent of the league's players would need to sign a petition supporting it in order to move to a vote for involuntary decertification. That vote, according to sources, would likely take between 45 and 60 days and would require a majority vote in order to pass.
If the union decertified, the move would be followed by antitrust suits against the NBA claiming the lockout is illegal and a hoped-for injunction. It's not that simple, though, as the NBA has already filed a preemptive lawsuit seeking a ruling that decertification is illegal in the Southern District of New York that would have to be dealt with first. Because that's a court that has ruled in the league's favor before, the NBPA is in the process of filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
The NBPA continues to wait for a decision on the National Labor Relations Board case it filed against the league in mid-May, and Hunter said after the meeting on Thursday that it remains the priority on the legal front. In reality, though, sources said the internal expectations are low that the case will ultimately play a significant part in the matter or provide any badly-needed leverage.
While more than half the league's players are represented by the aforementioned firms, it's hardly a foregone conclusion that the players would follow their agents' lead to decertify if and when they're asked. Fisher went to great lengths to convince the players to follow his lead on Thursday, sending all of them an impassioned e-mail that was highly critical of agents while also bringing NFLPA union head DeMaurice Smith in to discuss the importance of union unity and the downside of decertification for the NBPA to the crowd of approximately 40 players on hand.
Boston center Jermaine O'Neal, who experienced the 1998-99 lockout as a rookie and is a Tellem client, insisted this week in Las Vegas that players won't necessarily have a sheep mentality when it comes to their agents.
"The agents work for us," O'Neal said. "They just want to give their players the opportunity. The Arn Tellems of the world, they're going to sit down with their group of players and say, 'OK, what do you guys want to do?"
Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley, who is the Suns' player representative and is represented by Bartelstein, said Hunter made it clear he prefers to wait for the NLRB decision before considering decertification.
"They used the word 'option,' (regarding decertification)" Dudley said. "It's a viable option for us, but they have other stuff right now (and) aren't looking at that right now as an option...I think they're willing to play out the NLRB and still try to go back and negotiate still."