Decertifying the Union of Misfit Toys

Sam Amick wrote an informative piece for CNNSI today discussing the pros and cons of union decertification, which despite their misgivings the Players Association seems to be an increasingly realistic option.  You may remember the word “decertification” from the NFL lockout and, of course, absolutely nowhere else.  I’ve resisted the urge to report on NBA lockout issues – boring at best, depressing at worst – but Amick sums up the owners response to the possible union decertification pretty succinctly: “Go ahead and decertify, but run the risk of voiding all current contracts while continuing to avoid our inevitable victory.”  Well, then.

The apathy grows all the more concerning with part 17,138 of Malcolm Gladwell’s infinity-part series, “Things You Already Sort of Knew, Put into Words,” published in Grantland today.  In it Gladwell discusses how NBA owners are implicitly willing to sacrifice a measure of net income as an expense for the simple pleasure of owning an NBA franchise, but because that “expense” never finds its way onto an income statement the owners can essentially cry foul while claiming to be none the wiser.  It’s interesting stuff and worth a read, but as it pertains to Amick’s piece it puts the owner’s recalcitrance into better focus: to their owners these teams are toys, not businesses, and when a toy breaks its owner instinctively knows getting it fixed isn’t life or death – if it were, why bother having a toy?  Through nearly two months of the lockout, it looks like the owners want to play with their toys on their own terms, and Amick says if they maintain solidarity they’re likely to get their way.

The meat of Amick’s article for me wasn’t “Will they or won’t they decertify?” but that incredibly the Union seems to be fractured on the issue as the lockout slogs through its second month with just one face-to-face meeting between the two sides.  If they can’t get in the same room, then nothing has changed, and if nothing has changed, then how disorganized is the Players’ Association that they aren’t prepared to make a decision on this?  The players are the ones who stand to lose their shirts here – it IS a business to them, and getting it fixed is life or death – so whatever cards they have to play, why aren’t they prepared to play them?


Update: The players’ best card so far: the positive PR gained from all these NBA stars seen playing streetball around the country.  It seems like every day we see Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant just out there like one of the guys, ballin’ for love of the game.  (Or Michael Beasley, who may or may not be on a play-for-yay contract.)  It might not earn them a red cent at bargaining time, but those images will cultivate a more positive perception of the NBA player for the public, which pays itself off over time.  Best case scenario: the players are able to use the good press to gain a little media traction when games get start getting cancelled and the media wants to take sides.  Not exactly an ace in the hole if you ask me, but it can’t hurt.

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