Sports

NBA Agents Becoming Power Players in Lockout

| by Sports Agent Blog

Over the weekend, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports Tweeted the following:

NBA agents want to force league to negotiate for real, and feel only threat of unknown that comes with union decert can do that. NFL path.

Wojnarowski Tweeted that statement after Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group, Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports, and many other prominent basketball agents met with National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) Executive Director Billy Hunter on Friday to talk about the NBA lockout (which began on July 1, 2011), including the possibility of decertification of the union.

As we have seen with the NFL, decertification of the NBPA would prevent it from collectively bargaining with NBA owners.  The NBPA would have to eventually recertify before agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement.  A major perceived benefit of decertifying is allowing the players to individually and/or collectively file lawsuits against the NBA under United States antitrust laws based on a claim of unlawfully restraining trade.  Collective bargaining under U.S. labor laws effectively prevents players from bringing any suits against the league under antitrust laws.

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While it is no doubt that NBA agents want to force the NBA to negotiate for real, there may also be a more basic reason that agents are thinking about decertification – they may not like the idea of being a part of a union at all.  In May, Arn Tellem wrote an article published in the New York Times, which questioned whether players’ unions have outlived their purpose.  Specifically, Tellem believes that unions have shielded owners from the scrutiny of antitrust laws and effectively allowed collusion.  Tellem stated, “something is fundamentally wrong when the only effective weapon in a union’s arsenal is dissolution.”  Whether Tellem wanted to do so or not, he showed his cards by writing that statement – he thinks decertification (if not dissolution) is the only effective weapon.

Adrian Wojnarowski’s Tweet and subsequent article titled, NBA agents want union to decertify, reinforces Tellem’s and others agents’ determination to decertify the NBPA.  The quote from Wojnarowski’s article that absolutely sticks out to me is,

“Right now, it’s a respectful disagreement with [the agents] and Billy [Hunter], but it’s getting to a ‘[expletive]-you’ point.  We will blow this thing up.”

So much for David Aldridge’s belief that Billy Hunter has been able to neuter the influence of powerful player agents like Arn Tellem, Mark Bartelstein, and Bill Duffy.  As I wrote earlier this month and discussed on Brian Berger’s Sports Business Radio show, the fact that the NBPA’s executive committee is comprised of what Aldridge describes as “middle-class players” such as Roger Mason, Jr. and Keyon Dooling, should have absolutely no bearing on the influence of powerful agents in this labor battle.  In fact, Tellem and Bartelstein each represent one of the nine players on the committee.  Maybe players will prove to be much more unified this time around than in 1999, but it will have nothing to do with Billy Hunter’s neutering of powerful player agents.  If anything, it looks like the powerful player agents may neuter Hunter.

This article originally appeared on the Sports Agent Blog.