Why would a group of agents be pushing for the NBA players to decertify the union and sue the league on anti-trust grounds?
Because it’s seen as leverage — that anti-trust suit comes with triple damages, win big money and it becomes gigantic money. That threat, in theory, would push the owners to negotiate and give the union leverage.
But that move would come with risks — including the league wiping out every existing contract if the union decertifies. David Aldridge over at NBA.com has an interesting discussion of the decertification possibilities in a column Monday.
Keep one number in mind as powerful agents beat their chests about decertification: $4 billion. That’s the total amount of guaranteed contract money in the system that the NBA and its owners insist will go poof if the players decide to dissolve the National Basketball Players Association….
As far as the $4 billion goes, the league’s contention that the contracts would disappear is true only to a point. At some point, the league will reach a deal with the union, and would almost certainly have to reinstate the players’ contracts once the union recertified. The alternative would be either implementing work rules on the players without a deal, which would leave the league vulnerable to a potential players’ strike, or additional antitrust penalties if players sought redress while they continued to play under the imposed rules.
At any rate, the agents do not believe that the league would actually go ahead and void all of those contracts. Such a move could, at least theoretically, make every player in the league a free agent, able to go wherever they wanted. And owners like, say, Miami’s Micky Arison, might have a problem with that.
David Stern has called decertification “the nuclear option” and right now union executive director Billy Hunter is treating it that way. Federal courts are still slow and whether it’s just for leverage or not decertifying the union would reset the talks in a way. Games would be missed for sure.
Aldridge puts it well — right now the hawks among the owners that want major changes to the financial system are driving the bus on that side. But the players have hawks, too — agents and players willing to go to court. And nobody could feel confident of getting a win in the courts, that would be a drawn out and risky play for both sides.
Let us hope it doesn’t come to this. But the players are keeping union decertification on the table, and if they play that card it is going to get ugly. Or maybe we should say much uglier.