Are Agents Running NBA Collective Bargaining Negotiations?


With a full slate of NFL and NCAA football, it is easy to forget that any other sports exist.  However, the NBA is coming off of a fantastic season with its highest NBA Finals television ratings since 2004 (and I contend that there were much less competing TV options six years prior).  Yet, as each day passes, the NBA inches closer and closer to forfeiting 2011/12 regular season games.

NBA owners and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) are certainly not sitting idle.  However, I still do not feel a strong sense of urgency from either side of the bargaining table.  That could soon change, as many prominent basketball agents are making it known that they wish to decertify the NBPA.

Arn Tellem (Wasserman Media Group), Bill Duffy (BDA Sports), Mark Bartlestein (Priority Sports), Dan Fegan (Lagardère Unlimited) and Jeff Schwartz (Excel Sports) have collectively had their names printed by many media outlets over the past week.  These gentlemen have decided that they are in favor of decertification of the players’ union, which would allow their clients to file antitrust lawsuits against the NBA.  As long as the NBPA exists as a certified union of NBA players, the players forfeit their right to sue for any antitrust claims.

Journalists have been quick to point out that the five aforementioned agents collectively represent roughly thirty percent of the active players who comprise the NBPA, which happens to be the percentage of players needed to sign a petition in favor of decertification prior to all players in the union voting on the matter.  Thereafter, a simple majority would effectively decertify the NBPA.

This discussion reminds me of an article written by columnist David Aldridge on July 4, 2011, where he said,

Players are much more unified this time around than in ’99, in no small part because [Billy] Hunter has neutered the influence of powerful player agents like Arn Tellem, Mark Bartlestein and Bill Duffy, with an executive committee comprised mainly of middle-class players like Roger Mason, Jr. and Keyon Dooling.)

I wrote a reply, respectfully disagreeing with Aldridge’s assessment.

It is naive to think that the “middle-class players” will control negotiations on the players end, especially when a big problem with the current system is the large dollars that mid-level players are receiving.  The heavy hitting agents will be involved, whether or not they represent any players on the Executive Committee.

At this point in time, it seems as though the major agents are actively involved and will not be ceding control any time soon.  Whether this is a good thing for the NBA, in general, remains to be seen.

This article originally appeared on the Sports Agent Blog.


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