If you’ve followed the lockout at all you’ve heard the refrain: The agents all hate union head Billy Hunter. They want to be aggressive and use decertification — destroying the union to save it. They will run over Hunter to get what they want.
That’s never really been true, not totally anyway. What NBA player agents want out of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is pretty simple — a system that lets them get their players as much money as possible, and they want basketball back. They want to get paid, they want their players to get paid, and they want that to happen soon. Do what it takes to end this thing.
But they are not looking at a coup, according to powerful agent Mark Bartelstein — one of the agents allegedly planning to force decertification down Billy Hunter’s throat. Bartelstein spoke with Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated.
“There’s an inaccurate perception out there that there’s this group of agents — including myself — that have decided to quote-unquote blow up the union, or destroy the union, and nothing could be further from the truth. That’s not true at all. I know that I, personally, and other people have engaged and try to engage with Billy and [NBPA lead attorney] Ron Klempner and everyone at the players’ association throughout this process.
“I’ve been the first one to say that Billy is in a very, very difficult position. He’s in a very tough position, because the NBA has taken an extremely hardline stance from Day 1. The initial proposal [from the owners] … was Draconian to say the least, and Billy is in this position where he’s trying in good faith to get a deal done, but you can’t negotiate by yourself.
“And so in my prior thoughts and with people that I’ve conversed with, I’ve tried to help the union, to explore different ideas and different ways to try and bring this thing to a positive resolution — a resolution that’s not only good for the players, but good for the game. If there’s a game that’s good for the players, then ultimately they’re going to benefit because the game is going to grow. That’s been the goal all along. It has not been to take down the union or anything like that. There’s never been a conversation like that.”
Agents motives are not that hard to discern — they want the NBA to grow, they want a system where their players can get paid well. Because that’s good for the agent’s bottom line, too.
A hard salary cap could be hard on agents — it will depress salaries of the NBA’s middle class and mean fewer guaranteed contracts. So it’s not a huge leap of faith when we read reports about agents considering forcing a decertification vote — that’s the sledgehammer. Even though it failed for the NFL, some out there think it will give the union leverage over the owners because of the anti-trust lawsuits that would follow.
Just know that if decertification comes, the season is in serous jeopardy. To throw it to the courts now would be to blow everything up and start over. It would get much worse before it got better.
Hunter and union president Derek Fisher tried to use claims of outside influence by agents to solidify union ranks, but that is only a short-term strategy. A lot of players like or at least trust their agent on business issues, if Hunter is stumbling the words of agents will resonate with players.
Go read what Bartelstein told Amick, you’ll see what he and other agents are thinking.