Roger Mason aggressively attempted to get his fellow NBA players to sign petitions to authorize the re-establishment of the players’ union after a workout session on Thursday at Verizon Center. The National Basketball Players Association needed at least 260 signatures for approval from the American Arbitration Association and surpassed that number by the close of business.
Now that the union is back, ESPN.com is reporting that owners and players will begin finalizing the details of a new deal on Friday at noon. But with the league on the verge of a 66-game season, the union’s embattled executive director Billy Hunter is starting to feel a backlash from agents who are upset over a deal that saw players give back nearly $3 billion to the owners over the next 10 years.
CBSSports.com reported that a dozen agents are pushing for Hunter to be reinstalled as union leader but only on an interim basis. Mason, a union vice president, has heard the speculation and came to Hunter’s defense.
“To me, that would be a huge mistake,” Mason said on Thursday. “I’ve been fortunate to be in the room. I’ve seen what Mr. Hunter has done throughout this whole process and frankly, I really don’t think we’d have a deal if he wasn’t involved. I think his leadership has been key in this process and I think that’d be a mistake.”
Former Wizards Jerry Stackhouse and DeShawn Stevenson have both been critical of how the union handled negotiations. Stevenson said Hunter has done a “horrible job” and free agent forward Shane Battier confronted Hunter about whether he would take a pay cut during the lockout. Hunter reportedly receives more than $2 million annually. Several agents speculated that Hunter filed a disclaimer of interest to avoid a push for decertification that would’ve stripped the union of its power to negotiate on behalf of the players and removed Hunter of his position.
The players dissolved the union on Nov. 14 after labor talks stalled and filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA. But while the NBPA served as a trade association for two weeks, it never went away, and its leaders convened in New York to negotiate the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement last week. Mason believes that Hunter took the necessary steps to get players back to work.
“I got to honestly tell you, around 12:30 in the morning [last Saturday], we got a call and the guys didn’t know if we were able to get a deal done. We were that close to the league keeping things shut out and us missing a season. So, when it came down to was compromise,” Mason said. “Our owners deserve credit. They stepped up. They gave us 10 of the 12 items we needed. Obviously, the players gave $300 million a year back, $3 billion over 10 years, so we did our part and we were able to compromise. Nobody is thrilled with it on either side, but we’re happy to be working again.”
“I think we saved a lot of people’s jobs,” he said. “Not just the guys playing ball, but the people that were affected by this lockout, the workers, and the fans were able to enjoy basketball again.”
A majority of players and owners would still have to vote in favor of the final deal for it to be ratified. Hunter told players in a letter that electronic voting would take place next Thursday, a day before training camps and the free agent signing period are set to begin.
When asked if he expected either side to opt out of the deal in six years, Mason said, “Who knows? It’s tough to predict the future. I wouldn’t have thought this lockout would’ve lasted this long and it did. So who knows what can happen in six years.”