The ‘d’ word and NBA labor armageddon

Eric McErlain | Sports Blogger

Just when you thought the negotiations to end the NBA lockout couldn’t get any more complicated, a group of 50 players has taken the first steps toward more or less blowing up the 2011-12 basketball season.

These players — who according to The New York Times include some of the game’s biggest stars — are unhappy that union president Derek Fisher seems ready to compromise with owners on a 50/50 split of revenues. As a result, they’re ready to activate their own version of a “nuclear option” and have talked with their lawyers about decertifying the union.

What would that mean? Let’s just say that if you’re a devotee of free market economics and protracted anti-trust litigation, then decertification of the union looks like a great option. Unfortunately, if you want any hope of seeing NBA basketball played anytime soon, decertification is the ultimate nightmare scenario, as any return to the basketball court would be presaged by a monster of a lawsuit that would more or less doom this season.

As it turns out, it’s an option that’s been considered before, like when the NHL owners locked out their players in 2004. If the players did go ahead with such a plan — one that would first require creating a petition signed by 30 percent of the players followed by a simple majority vote — the new landscape would look something like this:

On the employer side, the NHL [NBA] would be turned into something that resembled English Football. It might prove devastating to competitive balance … It could very well drive some teams out of business and others would probably make their money by developing talent and selling it to a big market team.

On the worker side, it would surely increase the wage gap between the stars and the fringe players. There would be no minimum wage. No standard player contract. No grievance redress mechanisms. Disputes between player and team or player and league would have to be resolved in the courts. Most importantly, it will probably cost jobs. It would also take time, money and lawsuits to get from where we are now to where a hockey [basketball] player would have the same freedoms as anyone else. On the other hand, there would be no salary cap, no defined percentage of revenues and no restricted free agents.

Granted, this could all be a negotiating ploy, one simply designed to force both the union leadership and the owners to get back to the bargaining table and do a deal. After all, the NFLPA decertified earlier this year, but it didn’t stop the owners and the players from coming to an agreement that saved the regular season at the cost of just one meaningless exhibition game.

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.

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