Will Decertification of the Players’ Union End the Lockout?

Decertification is seen as a last resort, but it seems we might just be there already. However, several players in the league, who probably saw a drawn out lockout coming, wanted Union Director Billy Hunter to start the decertification process early in the summer because it is a rather lengthy process.

According to Larry Coon, “After decertifying, the players could then bring an antitrust suit against the league, challenge any rules that constitute a restraint of trade, and ask the court to end the lockout. They could also seek treble (triple the amount) damages — up to $6 billion per year. The odds of winning are not 100 percent certain (they never are), but the risk to the owners would be enormous. Such a case could take years to resolve.”*

Coon goes on to say that, “Once the union decertifies, the collective bargaining process would be over — there literally would be no union with which the owners could negotiate. Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher and the other players on the executive committee would no longer be in charge — as a practical matter, control would pass to attorneys. The players also could not reassemble the union for one year without the league’s consent. However, such consent obviously would be granted if the two sides eventually cut a deal.”*

There are definite pros and cons to decertifying. The biggest pro is that the mere threat of decertification could cause the owners to propose a union friendly proposal that would end the lockout. The owners would either concede to operating under the CBA that has been in place for the last twelve years or they would create a new CBA that would essentially bring the players back to the NBA.

The second pro in decertifying is the reality that players can bring antitrust lawsuits to the owners. According to Coon, “Much of the economic structure of the NBA — such as the salary cap, maximum salaries, rookie-scale salaries and the luxury tax — could be challenged under the antitrust laws as a form of price fixing if there was no union.”*

However, there are several cons to decertification, which is the main reason why it has never been done before in the NBA, although they came close to pulling the trigger in 1995. First, decertification would likely put a definitive cancellation to the entire season. The process alone would most likely take months, or even up to a year to complete. Then consider the time for lawsuits to conclude.

Second, decertification would likely void players’ contracts, which is something the owners would want while the players would fight against. However, this could mean that players could be free to play in China, who previously ruled out signing contracted NBA players. China offers the greatest financial incentives among the foreign countries attempting to contract NBA players.

The possibility and talk of decertification is primarily being used as a negotiation weapon for the players. With an ultimatum in place the players are fighting with creativity. However, a big fear is if the league chooses to decertify, the NBA may never fully recover.

This is why Kobe Bryant recently urged that, “we need for the two sides to get together again before Wednesday, because we’re too close to getting a deal done. We need to iron out the last system items and save this from spiraling into a nuclear winter.”**

The players’ association has stated that they wish to continue negotiations to prevent further cancellation of the season, but as the Wednesday afternoon deadline approaches and Tuesday’s announcement that the players will not agree to the proposal, decertification would seem to be the likely next step.

*Source: ESPN.com

**Source: Yahoo! Sports

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