NEW YORK?LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the NBA's other players from all-stars to also-rans are reportedly already in position to follow their American football counterparts and decertify as a union.
Citing unnamed sources, CBS Sports reported on its website Tuesday that the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) has collected enough signatures to fold and press a court case for a new collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL players union decertified and star players filed an anti-trust suit in March. NFL club owners responded by imposing a lockout that was ordered to end by a judge on Monday, although the NFL is appealing that decision.
As the NFL case works through the legal system, fans are concerned that the scheduled September start of the season will be jeopardized and that the 2011 campaign might be shortened or delayed as billionaire owners and millionaire players argue over how to divide $9.1 billion in annual revenues.
The NBA's union agreement with players expires June 30, about two weeks after the conclusion of this year's NBA Finals. NBA club owners could lock out players after that date as NFL owners did their players.
With the next NBA season to start around November 1, US basketball stars could find themselves using legal tactics similar to the gridiron stars, especially since the ruling against the lockout and an earlier one against the NFL over taking money now from TV networks for future telecasts shows the courts might offer them an edge in talks.
"What it does is put pressure on us to sit down and settle this," NBPA executive director Billy Hunter told Sports Illustrated. "We just want a fair deal."
Hunter called the ruling against the NFL lockout, one that dismissed ownership claims the decertification was merely a sham, as "a great ruling for the players" but only the first move in a lengthy process.
"It's like the first round of a 15-round fight," Hunter told SI.
NBA commissioner David Stern said two weeks ago that he intends to give the NBPA a revised proposal soon with hopes of avoiding taking the NBA labor fight to court.
NBA owners want a similar style of salary cap to the NFL with fewer exceptions as well as shorter guaranteed contracts. NBA players want to keep the current soft cap and luxury tax system similar to Major League Baseball.
NBA players would also likely press their case in the same Minnesota federal court where the NFL case is being heard given the favorable lockout ruling. Both the NBA and NFL have teams based in Minnesota, as does Major League Baseball, which has a union deal expiring in December.