NFLPA Executive Committee Meet In Washington DC To Vote On New Labor Agreement

When labor talks restart, who can be NBA’s Robert Kraft?


Right now, the lawyers are the guys putting on the show. The players have their big-gun attorney David Boies filing an antitrust lawsuit. Within a couple days David Stern (a lawyer) and his legal team will respond with their own legal maneuvers trying to crush the rebel alliance, and that will garner headlines.

But the way this will end is with settlement talks.

The argument technically shifts from “how do we build a collective bargaining agreement?” to “what collective bargaining agreement can we reach so we can throw the lawsuit out?” but it is essentially the same — two sides talking across a table. When the owners and players agree on a CBA the lockout and all this will end.

They did that in the NFL when Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Colts center Jeff Saturday threw the lawyers out of the room and agreed to keep negotiating, regardless of what advice they got from said lawyers. From ProFootballTalk, here is what Saturday said:

“The big shift came when owners and players began to negotiate by ourselves,” Saturday told NFL Network. “You really began to see men’s personalities and what they believe in. Robert Kraft was instrumental in getting this deal done. … Each and every one of us understood what he was going through.”

Have the NBA negotiations ever been humanized like that?

The NFL sides met for 16 straight days and hammered out a deal. The NFL season started on time.

For all the legal wrangling (and the differences in the talks), that is how the NBA lockout will end. Lawyers will want to use litigation to solve problems the same way surgeons will want to cut even when it is not the best strategy. Somebody needs to take charge, be rational, put Stern and the hardliners to the side, and just make this happen.

The problem is, who can be the NBA’s Robert Kraft?

Mark Cuban? He has the personality, but would the hardliners really accept the deal from one of the biggest spending owners (The only team that has spent more in the last decade on salary is the Knicks. Thanks, Isiah!). Small-market owners see him as part of the problem, not the solution.

Michael Jordan? He’s a hardliner that the players don’t trust right now so he will not work. It’s not the personality of Jerry Buss (or even Jeanie) to leap into this kind of fray, plus they again are big spenders. James Dolan? Do you really want him to craft a complex business deal about basketball? Same with Micky Arison. He can pick the place I go to dinner anytime but not sure he gets to be the man here.

Could a hardliner from the owners become the voice of reason and pull it off — Ted Leonsis (Washington), Herb Kohl (Milwaukee), or even, gulp, Dan Gilbert? (Insert your own “CBA written in Comic Sans” joke here, I’m not doing it for you.) Maybe a moderate such as Peter Holt (San Antonio) could, although he has been in front the whole time and nothing.

It’s the same on the players’ side — who could be their Jeff Saturday? Derek Fisher, Chauncey Billups, maybe even Etan Thomas?

Both sides are not going to like the ultimate deal struck, that’s how negotiations work. But if the NBA season is to be saved in some form, the sides need to start viewing each other as people not enemies to vanquish. Somebody is going to have to take charge, be rational and not take no for an answer.

Sadly, I just don’t see who can do it.

NBA players, owners let the lawyers do the sniping now

Empty Amway Arena

There was a pattern to this NBA lockout in the last couple months — not a comfortable one, but a pattern. The NBA and its players union wouldn’t talk for a week or so, then they would have two or three days of wildly intense negotiations. Then it would blow up and they would snipe at each other in press conferences. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Now, the NBA union is no more, reduced to a trade organization by disclaimer of interest. The battle has moved to the courts, and now the lawyers are doing the sniping.

Here is what the players lead antitrust attorney David Boies told Ken Berger of CBSSports.com (and the response from the league).

“There’s one reason and one reason only that the season is in jeopardy,” Boies told reporters at the Harlem headquarters of the former players’ union, which was dissolved Monday and reformed as a trade association to pave the way for the lawsuits. “And that is because the owners have locked out the players and have maintained that lockout for several months. … The players are willing to start playing tomorrow if (the owners) end the boycott.”

A statement released by the league office Tuesday night, spokesman Tim Frank said: “We haven’t seen Mr. Boies’ complaint yet, but it’s a shame that the players have chosen to litigate instead of negotiate. They warned us from the early days of these negotiations that they would sue us if we didn’t satisfy them at the bargaining table, and they appear to have followed through on their threats.”

Legally, the players are going after a summary judgment — a quick win based on the facts of the case not a hearing. If the players got that win and were awarded treble damages (three times their lost salary) they would certainly have the leverage they have sought to force the owners not only back to the table but to back off some demands. But it’s a long shot, and the owners could get a summary judgment as well and cut the players off at the knees. There is risk for the players.

The players PR strategy now is a variation of the “let us play” theme — we wanted to play so much we gave up $280 million a season to the owners, covering their losses, but that was not enough. The lawsuit in Minnesota seeks to throw Stern’s tactics right back at him.

The lawsuit quoted Stern’s own demands when he issued two ultimatums to the union during the final week of talks, threatening the players both times to accept the offer (with a 50-50 revenue split and various restrictions on trades and player salaries) or be furnished a worse offer in which the players’ salaries would have been derived from 47 percent of revenues in a system that included a hard team salary cap and rollbacks of existing contracts — all deal points the two sides had long since negotiated past and abandoned.

Asked if Stern made a mistake issuing the ultimatums that ended the talks, Boies said, “If you’re in a poker game and you bluff, and the bluff works, you’re a hero. Somebody calls your bluff, you lose. I think the owners overplayed their hand.”

I’ll agree with that. The problem is the owners’ hand was still a better one than the players’ hand. The players have no leverage. The legal maneuvers are great and all, but at the end of the day the owners and players (an now their lawyers) are going to have to sit down across from each other and negotiate a deal. Like the NFL did. The sooner that both sides of the NBA labor debacle realize that and start trying, the better.

Players file first antitrust suit in Minnesota, official one in California

courtroom generic

Well, the NBA is in the courts now, not on the courts.

Four players — Anthony Tolliver, Ben Gordon, Caron Butler and recent No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams (who does not yet have an NBA contract) — became the first plaintiffs in a players suit to challenge the lockout on antitrust grounds. This first lawsuit was filed in Minnesota and was a class action representing all players. Minnesota is where the NFL players filed their case, a place the players see as friendly to their case.

However, that was not the main suit filed by the players antitrust attorneys. It was a different action and one some reports suggest the union was surprised by.

A second — and the players’ official — suit was filed in Northern California with the plaintiffs being Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Kevin Durant, Leon Powe and Kawhi Leonard (another rookie without a contract).

The first lawsuit states (according to the AP) that the owners’ lockout “constitutes an illegal group boycott, price-fixing agreement, and/or restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Act.”

The players are framing this as a restraint of trade issue, saying the owners’ proposed CBA would have damaged the free market for players to ply their trade.

This lawsuit was made possible by Billy Hunter and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) leadership filing a “disclaimer of interest” Monday, essentially saying the union was no longer interested in representing the players in contract negotiations. This legal strategy is the course NBA player team representatives decided to take Monday.

The next move by the players will be to file for summary judgement — a ruling from a judge that they win on the facts alone.

The league will soon step in and first challenge the entire disclaimer as a sham, saying essentially that the union has been negotiating for two years, it can’t just walk away and say it’s not a union anymore.

The second battle will be over venue. The owners filed a preemptive lawsuit trying to block union decertification in August, and they filed it in New York. One of the first issues to be decided will be if these cases need to be in the same venue and decided by one judge, and if so which venue.

This is just the start of the legal wrangling that could well doom the entire NBA season.