CHICAGO, FEB. 6 -- Exactly what the NBA players' decision to decertify their union means depends on whom one talks to. At a midnight meeting of representatives of the 23 teams (guard Frank Johnson was present for the Washington Bullets), the group voted unanimously for the action, effective immediately. However, many of the rank and file appear confused by the decision.

"I'll tell you what I think," started Boston Celtics forward Kevin McHale. Then glancing up at a television interview with NBA Players Association general counsel Larry Fleisher, he added, "Wait, here's Larry. He'll tell you what I think."

Fleisher called the NBAPA's decision "sailing into uncharted waters." The move did meet with the approval of McHale and teammate Larry Bird, both of whom had said they would probably cross a picket line in the event of a strike.

NBA officials cited the lack of total conviction among the players as well as the NFL strike, largely perceived as having been detrimental to the players, as the main reasons the NBAPA took the action. The last collective bargaining agreement between the two sides expired at the end of last season; the league and players association have not had a negotiating session in more than two months.

Fleisher said the move was taken because the union was doing the players more harm than good in its attempt, through a lawsuit, to have the NBA draft, salary cap and right of first refusal declared violations of the antitrust laws.

A labor contract, or the potential for one, provides exemptions from some antitrust regulations, so the absence of a bargaining unit could remove those exemptions.

"It's a transparent litigation ploy, but an intelligent one," NBA Commissioner David Stern said. "But it does not take away the players' basic desire to make a deal of some kind with us."

Asked how the owners can reach a deal with the union if it refuses to act as the players' negotiating agent, Stern said, "We can run from each other, but we can't hide."

NBAPA President Junior Bridgeman said the move will allow free- agent and college players to pick which NBA teams to negotiate with. He discounted the idea of the owners holding their own draft and deciding among themselves whom they would and wouldn't sign.

"That would be collusion and I don't think the owners would want to risk that," Bridgeman said, citing rulings in major league baseball that gave free agency to a number of players.East Legends, 47-45

The East Legends team, led by Randy Smith's 11 points and a sudden-death overtime basket by Dave Cowens, defeated the West, 47-45, today in the annual old-timers adjunct to the NBA all-star game. The West had rallied from a 17-point deficit 2 1/2 minutes into the second half.

"It was like World War III out there," said Doug Collins, the Chicago Bulls coach and a member of the West Legends. "In the sudden death, it was a melee for the rebound. There's pushing and shoving. It was like a typical NBA game."

He led the West, which still leads the series, 3-2, with 13 points and Rick Barry had 12. Bird, Jordan Let Fly

Boston's Larry Bird won the three-point shootout for the third consecutive year. He defeated Seattle's Dale Ellis in the final, 17-15, by making his last three shots.

Each participant has one minute to shoot as many balls as he can from five racks, with the last ball in each rack counting two points. Bird, who won $12,500, connected on 11 straight advantage balls . . .

In the dunking contest, Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan hit a flying-from-the-foul-line jam on his last attempt to defeat Dominique Wilkins of Atlanta, 147-145. Both had two perfect scores of 50 points in the final.

"I'm glad it didn't go into sudden dunk," said Jordan, the defending champion. "If it had been tied, he would have won, I was that tired."

Atlanta and Eastern Conference all-star coach Mike Fratello, walking out of Chicago Stadium after the slam-dunk competition:

"Well, we'll just see who wins the most valuable player award tomorrow. I guarantee it won't be Jordan. I'm only going to play him for four minutes."