NBA players begin decertification vote

THE BALTIMORE SUN

One team features Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning. The other includes Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone.

It's a battle that basketball fans would love to see on the court. Instead, it will be played out over the next nine days at National Labor Relations Board sites across the country.

NBA players will begin a voting process today -- with another vote scheduled Sept. 8 -- that could determine whether the 1995-96 season starts on time. It's a vote to decertify the National Basketball Players Association -- a vote to decertify is a vote against the tentative collective bargaining agreement that owners and player representatives agreed to on Aug. 8.

A league-imposed lockout has been in effect since July 1, shortly after a group of 16 players filed an antitrust suit against the league.

"We owe it to the fans, sponsors and ourselves not to lose any of the season," O'Neal, the Orlando Magic center, said Monday. "Accepting the compromise is the only way to ensure doing that."

Highlights of the collective bargaining agreement that the union hopes will be accepted:

* Players will share in all league revenue (including luxury suites, sponsorships and concessions, which were excluded from the prior collective bargaining agreement). The players also will receive 59 percent of the revenue pie -- up from 53 percent.

* Salary caps increase from $15.9 million last season to $23 million this season. By the end of the six-year collective bargaining agreement, the cap will be $32.5 million.

* The so-called "Larry Bird" exception will be retained, allowing teams to sign their own free agents for any amount if that player has been with the team for three years. And a "Buck Williams" exception is added, allowing a player who finishes a two-year contract with his team to re-sign with that team for an increase of 75 percent of his second-year salary, or the average NBA salary.

* After the 1995-96 season, all players will become unrestricted free agents at the end of their contracts.

* Minimum player salary will increase from $150,000 to $225,000 this season.

* A rookie salary cap will be instituted.

The dissident players group, with clients of agent David Falk among the highest profile players, said provisions of the proposed agreement limit the ability of players to move from team to team and put some restrictions on salary increases.

Also, the group sees a rookie salary cap as nothing more than a savings for owners. "It's definitely a step backward," said agent Len Elmore, whose clients include No. 1 draft pick Joe Smith.

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