NBA players vote to retain union

By Patrick Klein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

On the basketball court, Michael Jordan has proved to be all but unbeatable. Off the court, however, he is a little more human.

The effort led by Jordan and several other NBA stars and their agents to decertify the players' union failed yesterday, as 226 players voted to keep the union and 134 voted to decertify.

Ninety percent of the eligible players voted.

The vote to retain the current union gave hope to the 1995-96 season beginning on schedule Nov. 3. NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Russ Granik participated in a teleconference yesterday to answer questions about the vote.

"We're pleased and gratified by the results of the National Labor Relations Board election," Granik said. "It's pretty overwhelming that the players support the union."

The vote clears the way for the player representatives to approve a new labor contract at a meeting today in Chicago. If the new contract, which includes a cap on rookie salaries and a team salary cap, passes, Stern said the league would end the two-month lockout, possibly as early as Friday.

The union had agreed to a labor deal with the league in June, but several stars including Jordan, New York's Patrick Ewing and Indiana's Reggie Miller and their agents forced the vote on the contract to be tabled and started the decertification movement.

The goal of the decertification group was to have the players vote to disband the union. Once this was accomplished, the players could seek an injunction against the lockout. If the injunction was granted (a similar injunction was granted for the NFL players' union against the owners), the teams would be required to accept the players back. By taking away the leverage of a lockout, the teams would, in theory, have negotiated a deal more favorable to the players.

The argument from Jeffrey Kessler, the lawyer for the players seeking to decertify the union, was that the NBA used heavy-handed tactics to scare players into voting in favor of the union by telling them that unless decertification was defeated, the season would not be played.

"A lot of players got intimidated by the threat of the owners that the season was going to end," Kessler said. "The strategy the NBA carried out was effective."

Stern denied that the league used any kind of scare tactics, calling it "a perfectly legal lockout."

"All we said in response to the other side's counsel was that the way to start the season was to vote yes (for the union)," Stern said.

Yesterday's vote does not totally clear the way for training camp to start Oct. 6 and the season Nov. 3. Sacramento King guard Mitch Ritchmond has filed a labor complaint with the NLRB against the NBA, in an attempt to overturn the election results, claiming the NBA coerced players into voting for the union.

The results of the election will not be official until Sept. 19, and the losing side has the option of filing objections as to how the vote was conducted, said Daniel Silverman, the NLRB's New York regional director.

Stern does not expect any problems from Richmond's complaint.

"Mitch understood the deal and voted against it, but he's saying that everybody else that voted against it was coerced," Stern said.

Stern flatly denied that he thought the vote was a victory over Jordan. The commissioner referred to a statement of Jordan's last week when the Chicago Bull guard said he would not continue to fight for decertification if the vote failed.

"I don't take it as a personal success," Stern said. "I've talked to Michael over the past few weeks, and all the information I've seen about the vote has been (concerning) the deal. It wasn't personal."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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