Basketball Players Outmatched by NBA Owners Who Deliver Hunter an Ultimatum

Susan T. SpencerGuest ColumnistNovember 6, 2011

NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter October 2011
NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter October 2011Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The 2011 National Football League (NFL) lockout lasted four-and-a-half months and gave the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) a golden opportunity to observe a winning strategy at the bargaining table.

Negotiation is all about leverage—the side with leverage gets a lopsided advantage and will control the terms.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, spent a year preparing his organization and players to go toe to toe with the NFL commissioner and the owners' negotiating committee. It seems that Billy Hunter did not.

The NBPA’s strategy was no match for that of the NBA. As a result, Commissioner David Stern had the negotiating leverage to put a “take it or leave it” deal on the table, good until the close of business Wednesday, November 9.

From the very beginning Billy Hunter rejected Smith's plan of attack even though it resulted in a fair collective bargaining agreement for the next 10 years. An effective decertification strategy requires three core components. First and foremost is player solidarity. For more than a year prior to labor negotiations, Director Smith and his NFL player reps educated each team’s players about decertification and the need for a united front. NFL players remained firmly behind the union’s strategy throughout decertification and labor negotiations. Although NBA players initially rejected decertification, it now appears that a number of players are independently taking another look at this possibility.

The second component of the decertification strategy used by the NFLPA was having the necessary number of player signatures well in advance of pulling the trigger to decertify. This was coupled with a fully prepared lawsuit featuring a star-studded list of quarterbacks as plaintiffs. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees headed the list of named plaintiffs on the anti-trust lawsuit that was filed with the court on the same day as the decertification became effective.  If Billy Hunter were to initiate a decertification strategy now he would need to get 50 percent of the players plus one to buy in, and it would take the better part of the remaining basketball season to make it happen.

The third component is decisive leadership. DeMaurice Smith had a vision and a plan which he methodically implemented in order for the players to have a level negotiating field. His strategy succeeded. Billy Hunter needs to immediately put together a new strategy that gives the NBA players a voice that will be heard at the bargaining table—or this NBA season will be history.