CHICAGO, FEB. 5 -- The NBA Players Association voted unanimously tonight to withdraw as the exclusive collective bargaining agent for the league's players and agreed not to strike or boycott this weekend's All-Star Game.
Players union general counsel Larry Fleisher said the vote by the player representatives from the 23 teams does not mean the end of the union, only its withdrawal as the labor bargaining agent for the players.
A majority of the players must still vote to validate the decertification process before it can take effect. Fleisher said the player representatives also agreed not to strike or boycott Sunday's all-star activities or playoffs, which had been announced as one of their options.
Charles Grantham, executive vice president of the union, said the suit currently on file in federal court would "continue full blast. But since there will be no collective bargaining agreement -- the whole idea of labor antitrust exemptions assumes a collective bargaining agreement and a union -- this should put us in a better position with this suit."
Fleisher and Grantham initiated the idea of withdrawing the union as the collective bargaining agent as a way to prevent the NBA from continuing what the union considers restraints on player freedom.
In the lawsuit and in failed negotiations with the league, the union had sought the end of the college draft, the salary cap system and the right-of-first-refusal free agency system.
With no collective bargaining agreement to protect the league from antitrust violations, the union theorized, those three restraints would no longer be legal.
"We're not happy we had to do this," Fleisher said, "but we think it's necessary. We get what we want without striking. The benefits of that are more than the benefits of having per diem and pension benefits in the collective bargaining agreement."
If the decertification goes through, players would lose per diem and pension benefits agreed to in previous collective bargaining agreements, and every player will have to negotiate those kinds of benefits individually.
"There's some danger of chaos. We are going into uncharted waters," Fleisher said. "Fifty players could file suits at one time. Every college player could write every team and say the draft is illegal and 'I want to negotiate with you.' "
Grantham said the union will not cease to exist, but would be largely a service organization for the players, for example helping them negotiate competitive pension plans.
When told of the union vote, NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "We haven't been advised of anything. However, this doesn't change our view. We still want to reach an accommodation with our players to continue with the success of the league for the benefit of our players, our owners and our fans."
The former agreement expired at the end of last season, and the union has said it wants to remove the college draft, right of first refusal and salary cap from any future contract. The union filed a suit in federal court in New Jersey last November claiming the three items violated antitrust laws.
Both sides acknowledge the suit could take years to settle. Meanwhile, neither side has moved from its public posture. The league says the draft, right of first refusal and salary cap must be part of negotiations. The union says no.
It would seem, with management types being represented here and player agents by the score, there could be some player movement via trades at some point this weekend. The biggest name being bandied about so far is Knicks center Bill Cartwright, who has been rumored as part of a three-team deal with Portland and Indiana with Kiki Vandeweghe going to New York and Herb Williams going to the Trail Blazers.