NBA Players Union Files Complaint Against League

Alleges owners are playing dirty pool in attempt to impose lockout

In a bid to prevent NBA owners from imposing a lockout next month, the National Basketball Players Association on Tuesday filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

The three-page complaint, filed by attorneys from the firm Steptoe & Johnson on behalf of the NBPA, charges the league with “making harsh, inflexible and grossly regressive ‘takeaway’ demands that [it] knows are not acceptable to the union.”

The union also alleges that NBA owners are purposefully delaying action on a renewal of the collective bargaining agreement, which expires June 30. A subsequent lockout would serve to “coerce [the players] into “accepting the NBA’s harsh and regressive demands,” the complaint continues.

Like the NFL Players Association before it, part of the NBPA’s complaint has to do with financial disclosure. Per Tuesday’s complaint, attorneys charged that the owners had refused “to provide the relevant financial information . . . needed by the Union to understand, test, and analyze the NBA’s asserted justification, based on financial weakness, for its grossly regressive contract demands.”

NBA Commissioner David Stern has said the league is projected to lose $300 million this season.  In order to keep costs down—and give owners a bigger slice of the revenue pie—the league is calling for radical changes to the CBA, including a hard salary cap, a reduction in future salaries, and the implementation of shorter contracts.

The filing comes a week after the death of Gary Hall, the trusted confidant of and advisor to union director Billy Hunter. The 67-year-old Hall died in his sleep on May 16, apparently from natural causes.

Calling the validity of the complaint into question, the NBA immediately issued a statement in response.

“There is no merit to the charge filed today by the Players Association with the National Labor Relations Board, as we have complied—and will continue to comply—with all of our obligations under the federal labor laws,” the NBA statement read. “It will not distract us from our efforts to negotiate in good faith a new collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association.”

Both parties are scheduled to engage in a formal bargaining session during the NBA Finals. The talks will take place in one of the two cities represented by the current Western Conference Finalists (Dallas or Oklahoma City). The last time the NBA faced a long-term labor stoppage was in 1999, when a lockout sliced 32 games from the regular-season schedule.

The complaint comes as the NBA is enjoying tremendous ratings success. Through the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals (Heat vs. Bulls), TNT is averaging 10.7 million total viewers, an increase of 42 percent versus the same period a year ago. ESPN is averaging 6.73 million viewers with its Mavs-Thunder series.