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NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher speaks alongside executive director Billy Hunter. Matt Bonner, Theo Ratliff, Etan Thomas, Keyon Dooling and Roger Mason stand behind them. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

NBA Players Weigh Owners' Offer, Could Decertify Union Instead

Nov 11, 2011

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Korva Coleman

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NBA player representatives are reviewing another contract offer from team owners, and this time NBA commissioner David Stern says This Time Is Really It. If the players reject the offer, the owners warn they'll put forward a revenue sharing plan players will hate and the NBA lockout will stay in place.

Stern had said at the start of the week that Wednesday was the deadline for the players' acceptance of an offer, but new contract talks prompted him to put a hold on his ultimatum.

The key sticking point, as usual, is how to share money. In this case, it's basketball related income, or BRI, that's revenue teams earn from ticket sales, tv contracts, and more. NPR's Mike Pesca explained on Morning Edition what players face:

"And the circumstance is that if players don't accept a 50/50 split of revenue - remember, they were getting 57 percent of all basketball-related income last year - they've agreed to go down to as low as 52 percent. But the owners want a 50/50 split. And David Stern has said, if you don't take that 50/50 split, our next offer is going to be a 47 percent split."

Maybe the players will accept the split. If they do, Stern says a 72-game season could start up December 15, according to AP. If they don't, the next offer will feature the less favorable BRI division, a tougher salary cap and wage cuts.

The choice will be hard for players, many of whom are already angry at their union for giving so much ground to the owners. Yahoo Sports reports dozens of players are so steamed they're talking about decertifying their union, perhaps even filing paperwork before the player representatives from each of the teams meet to discuss setting a vote on the offer. Yahoo cites this furious player: "We told them not to go past 53 percent (of BRI). They did. We told them we're not taking this deal. Why waste our time?"

A decertification vote would let players head for federal court, where they could file a class-action lawsuit against NBA owners to stop the lockout. As the LA Times reports, "though decertification could give the players leverage, the lengthy court process would significantly cut the 2011-12 season, if not altogether." And that means no BRI - no players' salaries, nothing.

Remember, pro football players tried the decertification/class action legal route earlier this year and ultimately lost in federal court; an 8th Circuit Court of Appeals panel voted 2-1 to allow the football owners' lockout to proceed. Ultimately, the NFL owners and players settled on a new contract in time for a new season.

And there are other issues players apparently won't get, including relaxed salary caps, rules on drug testing and more. As Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen notes, by giving so much ground with revenue sharing

"... the union wanted the owners to capitulate on system issues that would maintain free agency and player movement at a level to which the players have grown accustomed. But the owners insisted that the luxury tax and other mechanisms needed to be strengthened in order to prevent rich teams from grossly outspending the smaller markets for talent."

If the players have already lost negotiating ground they didn't want to give on revenue sharing, free agency and salary caps, and aware that the owners will present something worse next week, will they vote for union decertification? NBC's Kurt Helin doubts this is a fight players really want - but.

"...the uncertainty it creates is seen as leverage. And right now, as players feel they are getting the losing end of this deal, they will do just about anything for leverage."

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