Headline Sports Law

Powerful NBA Agents Seek Use Of Decertification Weapon

Over the weekend, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports Tweeted the following:

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Wojnarowski Tweeted that statement after Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group, Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports, and many other prominent basketball agents met with National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) Executive Director Billy Hunter on Friday to talk about the NBA lockout (which began on July 1, 2011), including the possibility of decertification of the union.

As we have seen with the NFL, decertification of the NBPA would prevent it from collectively bargaining with NBA owners.  The NBPA would have to eventually recertify before agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement.  A major perceived benefit of decertifying is allowing the players to individually and/or collectively file lawsuits against the NBA under United States antitrust laws based on a claim of unlawfully restraining trade.  Collective bargaining under U.S. labor laws effectively prevents players from bringing any suits against the league under antitrust laws.

While it is no doubt that NBA agents want to force the NBA to negotiate for real, there may also be a more basic reason that agents are thinking about decertification – they may not like the idea of being a part of a union at all.  In May, Arn Tellem wrote an article published in the New York Times, which questioned whether players’ unions have outlived their purpose.  Specifically, Tellem believes that unions have shielded owners from the scrutiny of antitrust laws and effectively allowed collusion.  Tellem stated, “something is fundamentally wrong when the only effective weapon in a union’s arsenal is dissolution.”  Whether Tellem wanted to do so or not, he showed his cards by writing that statement – he thinks decertification (if not dissolution) is the only effective weapon.

Adrian Wojnarowski’s Tweet and subsequent article titled, NBA agents want union to decertify, reinforces Tellem’s and others agents’ determination to decertify the NBPA.  The quote from Wojnarowski’s article that absolutely sticks out to me is,

“Right now, it’s a respectful disagreement with [the agents] and Billy [Hunter], but it’s getting to a ‘[expletive]-you’ point.  We will blow this thing up.”

So much for David Aldridge’s belief that Billy Hunter has been able to neuter the influence of powerful player agents like Arn Tellem, Mark Bartelstein, and Bill Duffy.  As I wrote earlier this month and discussed on Brian Berger’s Sports Business Radio show, the fact that the NBPA’s executive committee is comprised of what Aldridge describes as “middle-class players” such as Roger Mason, Jr. and Keyon Dooling, should have absolutely no bearing on the influence of powerful agents in this labor battle.  In fact, Tellem and Bartelstein each represent one of the nine players on the committee.  Maybe players will prove to be much more unified this time around than in 1999, but it will have nothing to do with Billy Hunter’s neutering of powerful player agents.  If anything, it looks like the powerful player agents may neuter Hunter.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

2 replies on “Powerful NBA Agents Seek Use Of Decertification Weapon”

Isn’t that lovely,  one slick dude, Tellem, thinks the union has “outlived” it’s purpose. (Probably because it interfers with his goals.) Of course while he carps about the owners —–and he and others have cast the League and owners and the bad actors, there is another story and it is a classic tale about The Color of Money.  

Mr. Tellen (Wasserman) and 9 other sports agencies (Excel, Landmark, ASM, Lagardere, CAA, Priority, BDA, Williams-Connolly & Goodwin) have negotiated over 50% of what the 30 NBA business owners pay to players.  The above named sports agencies represent 70% of the NBA players (240)… would only take 130 votes to decertify the union.  4 of the agencies could wrangle 138 votes.  Do the players know that the Agents are part of the Labor Union mix?  And why are the AGENTS casting themselves as so important….do they herd their players around like cattle?

This is an issue between NBA players (who contracted directly with owners), not AGENTS versus the NBA.  

10 Agents are going to decide the fate of the sport, 435 players, thousands of NBA & NBPA employees and the fans?  Sounds like a crappy idea to me.

This lockout has little to do with the players and more to do with the owners sentimental reaction of losing revenue.  This has been attributed by the NBA’s decision to mirror big businesses harmful profit schemes championed by Commissioner Stern and his associates.  Otherwise the NBA wouldn’t be in the financial disposition that it’s in. As such you have a commissioner ignoring players concerns by giving full control to corrupt referees who openly admit to betting on games, making wrong calls, and saying they don’t care.  This behavior indicates a way to control the players and outcome of games without any oversight.  That’s why commissioner Sterns actions have violated the leagues rules and guidelines.  This type of behavior is disgraceful and unethical.  It’s a spit in the face to players, fans and the leagues image.  That’s why I’m asking NBA fans to stand behind the calling for Commissioner Sterns resignation.  Because it’s fans who built the NBA’s empire and it’s fans who can change it.  

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