NBA Players Ponder Next Move

Rather than returning to the bargaining table, the NBA players' union spent Tuesday pondering its latest loss and debating its next move -- perhaps decertification.

"It's very seriously being explored. Some people feel it's the answer because it's our best piece of leverage remaining," said one agent close to the union.

One day after the union lost its guaranteed contracts in a ruling by arbitrator John Feerick, the union pondered a course of action but remained upbeat.

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  • "The players will not back down," union director Billy Hunter said. "The sooner the owners realize this and end the lockout, the quicker we can avoid enormous damage to the sport of basketball."

    Some thought the wisest move would be to maintain a unified front and resist accepting an unfavorable labor agreement -- even if the lockout lasts into January.

    Others, including a vocal minority of the agents' council, were pushing for decertification, a move that could lead to a multiyear fight with the owners.

    By decertifying, the union would remove itself as the official bargaining agent for the players. A court injunction would then be sought to end the lockout.

    Stern and Granik
    Russ Granik and David Stern aren't happy with the players' progress. (AP)

    If an injunction were granted, the owners would lift the lockout, open camps and impose new work rules. And if the new rules were more restrictive than the old ones, the players would be expected to file an antitrust suit against the league seeking treble damages.

    On Wednesday, the agents' advisory council meets in Las Vegas The next day, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone are among those expected to attend a union meeting open to all players.

    Players earlier this summer gave the union's executive council the go-ahead to decertify, so a vote among the rank-and-file would not be necessary.

    NFL players chose to decertify after their strike failed in 1987. Their court fight with NFL owners dragged on five years before a settlement was reached.

    NBA players who currently have long-term contracts might benefit from decertification, since they would soon start drawing salaries. But free agents and players who have been in the league fewer than three years would be hurt because they would be forced to sign under the rules of a new system and then would have to wait several years to find out if they would win damages.

    Commissioner David Stern and the owners are well aware the union has been considering decertification, and some agents believe the league fears being taken to court on antitrust charges.

    "Unfair labor practice charges, arbitration, decertification, antitrust suits don't get it done," Stern said. "This (Monday's arbitration ruling) should have been a signal that we return to the table today. Instead, the players are being told by their union to miss another week of work."

    Stern sent a letter to Hunter on Monday outlining the league's proposals and asking that Hunter pass it along to the players.

    There is nothing in the letter, a union official said, that would spur bargaining talks to resume until next week at the earliest. The owners' negotiating committee will be New York next Tuesday for an update.

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