Cavaliers forward Samardo Samuels would’ve voted to accept the labor deal proposed by the owners, but he never got the chance. Now the only court in the NBA’s future is in a judicial setting and the entire 2011-12 season is in great peril.
NBA players rejected the owners’ latest proposal on Monday, calling it “extremely unfair” while taking the necessary steps to disband the union and take their fight to court — which is precisely where a number of agents wanted this battle all along.
“We’re prepared to file this antitrust action against the NBA,” union executive director Billy Hunter said. “That’s the best situation where players can get their due process.”
Union president Derek Fisher said it was the best decision for the players and called the decision “unanimous,” presumably referring to the 30 player representatives who attended the meeting in New York.
There was a groundswell of rank-and-file players in recent days who seemed willing to take the deal just to get back on the court, but before the 400-plus player pool could vote on the deal, it first had to be accepted by the union reps. That didn’t happen.
Samuels told the Beacon Journal Monday morning while the player representatives were meeting that he didn’t like the proposal, but would’ve voted to accept it.
“A lot of people in the league are panicking,” Samuels said. “You’re talking about missing paychecks. Those paychecks you’re missing are going to add up and guys have families and responsibilities and bills to pay. I’m just a guy that’s coming out of college. I’m 22 years old, I don’t have much responsibility.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern urged players in recent days to take the deal, insisting it was the best the league could do and warned that decertification was not a wise move. The players did not technically decertify, but served the league with a “disclaimer of interest” that allows them to disband and become a trade organization.
“It looks like the 2011-12 season is really in jeopardy,” Stern said in an interview aired on ESPN. “It’s just a big charade. To do it now, the union is ratcheting up I guess to see if they can scare the NBA owners. That’s not happening.”
Moving to court
By disbanding and taking the fight to litigation, players are following what a number of the league’s high-powered agents had wanted to do back in July. Famous antitrust attorney David Boies will join Jeffrey Kessler, who was the union’s lead negotiator, in representing the players in court.
Boies worked for the NFL against the players’ antitrust suit last summer. Now he’s switching sides and joining the players’ fight in the NBA battle.
“Mr. Kessler got his way and we’re about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA,” Stern told ESPN, referring to Kessler’s alleged threat of an antitrust lawsuit nearly two years ago. “If I were a player … I would be wondering what it is that Billy Hunter just did.”
In his official statement from the league, Stern used Kessler’s remarks two years ago as an indication they were not bargaining fairly — a stunning claim since the players had essentially agreed to give back more than $280 million per year in revenue during these negotiations.
Stern has made it clear in recent days that if the players rejected this 50/50 split in basketball-related income, the owners’ proposal would revert back to the players receiving just 43 percent.
The two sides can still negotiate during this legal ordeal, leaving a slim chance at least part of this season can be salvaged. But the players’ decision to reject the offer and disband the union certainly proves they’re not afraid of a long, silent winter.
“This is the best decision for the players,” Fisher said. “I want to reiterate that point, that a lot of individual players have a lot of things personally at stake in terms of their careers and where they stand. And right now they feel it’s important — we all feel it’s important to all our players, not just the ones in this room, but our entire group — that we not only try to get a deal done for today, but for the body of NBA players that will come into this league over the next decade and beyond.”
Facing the consequences
Some of the league’s stars, such as Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, have led the charge in recent days to disband the union, irking some of the younger players like Samuels.
“It’s easy for Paul Pierce to say that. You’ve been in the league how long?” Samuels said. “You’ve got a decent amount of money saved up, but what about the guys just coming into the league who don’t have [anything] saved up?”
Samuels was an undrafted rookie last season.
Anthony Parker, the Cavs’ player representative and a free agent, acknowledged late last season that if the lockout wiped out the entire 2011-12 season, it would likely be the end of his career. Yet Fisher seemed to indicate all of the player reps were in agreement to reject the proposal, meaning Parker might have ended his own career with a “no” vote.
“This deal could have been done. It should have been done,” Hunter said. “We’ve given and given and given, and they got to the place where they just reached for too much and the players decided to push back.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.