The Collective Bargaining Agreement of the National Basketball Association is the contract between the 30 team owners (represented by the Commissioner) and the Players union (National Basketball Players Association/NBPA). The CBA defines business relationships in the League by providing rules about player contracts, eligibility for the draft, trades, revenue sharing, and salaries, among other things. The CBA is a document negotiated by the parties and given effect for a certain defined period.
In June 2005, the NBA’s 1999 CBA expired, meaning the League and the players union had to negotiate a new agreement; in light of the fiasco that was the 2004-05 NHL lockout, the two sides quickly come to an agreement and ratified a new CBA in July 2005. This agreement expired following the 2010-11 season, leading to the 2011 NBA lockout. A new CBA was ratified in December 2011 ending the lockout. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NBA_Collective_Bargaining_Agreement
In the 1999 and 2005 CBA’s the salary cap remained substantially unchanged. In 2005, the NBPA agreed to what is now considered a controversial player age minimum for draft eligibility. In return, the players received slightly increasing shares of League revenues. However, under the 2011 CBA the percentage of revenue dropped from 57% to 50%.
The 2011 CBA contains an opt-out provision effective June 2017 whereby either party would have to give notice of their intent to terminate the agreement in December 2016. The Executive Director of the NBPA, Michele Roberts, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver have both made public statements that their respective clients may exercise the option. Michele Roberts has gone on record saying that she wanted to get the parties to the bargaining table well in advance of the CBA deadline. (http://www.si.com/nba/2015/06/10/nba-nbpa-collective-bargaining-agreement-negotiations-august). Contract talks started last month.
The issues that are likely to top the agenda include:
- Increases due to the salary cap
- Division of Basketball-Related Income (BRI) between owners and players, including revenues from lucrative television deals
- Minimum age restriction for entry into the Draft—either raising it from 19 to 20 years old (Commissioner David Silver’s position) or lowering it to 18 (NBPA position)
- Rookie and Minimum pay scales
Roberts is the first woman in NBA history to be elected Executive Director of the players’ union. In turn, the NBPA is the only major professional sports union (NFL, NHL, MLB) to be led by a woman.
Roberts, does not come from a background in labor negotiations. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and spent the first eight years of her legal career as a public defender in Washington D.C. Her reputation as a top criminal defense lawyer was solidified with an acquittal in a high profile homicide case. After that Roberts took positions at white collar defense firms in D.C. including Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meager and Flom where she worked until she was elected to the position of NBPA Executive Director in 2014.
The players had been without a permanent Executive Director since they unanimously voted out Billy Hunter at the All-Star break in 2013. Hunter had served as union chief since 1996 but was removed after an independent report cited questionable business practices, among other things, extending a contract without union approval. http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/union-head-michele-roberts. Former Deputy General Counsel Ron Klempner served as “acting” Executive Director until Roberts beat out over 300 other candidates at a vote in Las Vegas last year.http://www.forbes.com/sites/darrenheitner/2014/10/20/national-basketball-players-association-picks-new-general-counsel.
Despite her criminal defense background, Roberts pitched herself as someone that had plenty of experience in high-pressure negotiations if not strictly in the labor-employment realm. Her track record of being able to convince juries to vote her way spoke to what the players wanted in an Executive Director – someone willing to go to battle for them who was a proven winner.
Prior to August 2014, Roberts took steps took steps to appoint experienced lawyers to her negotiating team. She kept Ron Klempner and named him Senior Counsel for Collective Bargaining. Gary Kohlman, a reknowned Washington D.C. labor and employment lawyer was appointed General Counsel. The remainder of the senior management team of is made up of former NBA players and the former president of the NFLPA.http://nbpa.com/nbpa-executive-director-michele-roberts-announces-initial-appointments-nbpas-senior-ma/.
Commissioner Silver, who was appointed to his position six months before Roberts was elected, will lead the negotiations on behalf of the owners.
CBA line by line
The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement and Exhibits runs over five hundred pages. The NBPA has published a 38 page summary available on the union’s website. A more in-depth 93 page summary in question and answer format is available at Larry Coon’s NBA Salary Cap FAQ.http://www.cbafaq.com Larry Coon is a computer scientist who designed a way to pull information relevant to a particular subject area or question from discrete parts of the document. Professor Coon’s copyrighted summary is a valuable resource. In July 2015, Daniel Leroux began installments of the CBA Encyclopedia for RealGM.com (www.basketball.realgm.com/news/analysis/tags/CBA-Encyclopedia)
I have read the entire Collective Bargaining Agreement. The above-referenced summaries are useful to give sophisticated fans a context for the legal terminology used in the document. In the coming year we will be dealing with CBA issues, the resolution of which will determine whether NBA basketball is played in 2017-2018 and what it might look like. From a lawyer’s point of view, this negotiation is equivalent to a season of legal all-star games.
To appreciate the maneuvers, passes, scores and pace of what we’ll see happen at the bargaining table, we have to examine how the relevant provisions of the CBA impact both owners and players. Aside from the potential that one side or the other will opt out of the CBA next year placing the 2017-2018 season in jeopardy, fans will also be affected by a variety of other financial decisions made by each side.
In this blog, I will identify the specific provisions, pages or sections that are going to be in “play”, quoting the exact language of the agreement. I will also provide additional background and pedigree information on the lawyers representing both sides. Complex negotiations are difficult to report on because of the subject matter and time constraints inherent in most media formats. I think fans would genuinely be interested in understanding the negotiation process if more complete information was available. A blog may be an effective platform for that purpose.