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Agents again at forefront of NBA labor dispute
Posted: Mon December 28, 1998 at 9:06 p.m. ESTJERSEY CITY, New Jersey (Ticker) -- Agent Steve Woods represents just one NBA player, while David Falk seems to represent all the others. But both have made their presence felt during the lockout and did so again today.
Woods, who represents Toronto Raptors forward Kevin Willis, was among those questioning NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter during a teleconference. He attempted to offer a proposal to Hunter but promptly was cut off.
Falk, who is the agent for nearly half of the union's 19-member negotiating committee, again was blamed for the standoff that is in its 181st day and only 10 days away from the cancellation of the entire NBA season.
Woods, who was at odds with Hunter and the union earlier this summer, was introduced by the teleconference host and began his question by saying, "If I were to send you a proposal, ... "
Hunter immediately interrupted, saying he would not take any questions from Steve Woods because "he is not a member of the media." Woods claimed to write three times a week for an unidentified news organization before he was cut off.
In October, Woods filed a grievance with the New York office of the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the union of "mismanaging negotiations with the NBA." He charged the union with "not representing the best interest of most players."
"I don't think Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning are equipped to make a $10 billion deal," Woods said at the time. "I don't want to be on the bus going over the cliff with Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning driving it."
Ewing, the president of the Players Association, and Mourning, a member of the negotiating committee, both are clients of Falk.
Earlier this month, Willis called for the union's rank and file of nearly 400 to conduct a secret ballot on one of the league's proposals.
Hunter admitted today there have been some dissenting voices but maintained "at least 80 to 85 percent of the membership are with us. We know because we take their pulse, that they are with us."
Considered the most powerful agent in sports, Falk has denied that he is the invisible driving force behind the breakdown in negotiations. In addition to Ewing and Mourning, he represents committee member Juwan Howard and a handful of others who have been given complete authority by union members on all matters.
The union has decided not to vote on the league's most recent proposal, which NBA commissioner David Stern says will be its last before recommending to the Board of Governors that they vote to cancel the entire season on January 7th, costing both sides billions of dollars
"This is leadership that thus far has probably caused the most damage, financially, for any players in pro sports," Stern said today.
Falk, partner Curtis Polk and agent Arn Tellem organized a charity exhibition game involving NBA stars on December 19th in Atlantic City. The rosters were dotted with Falk clients and the game was met with lukewarm response.
The lockout is nearly six months old. In its early stages, many players said they would not accept any deal which penalized the so-called "middle class" players -- veterans such as Willis who do not command eight-figure salaries but are worth far more than the six-figure minimum that many grudgingly accepted under the last collective bargaining agreement.
However, the NBA's nine-member labor relations committee has proposed a "middle-class" salary cap exception beginning at $1.5 million and escalating to the average salary over the six-year term of the proposal. It also has restored the bi-annual $1 million exception, creating a maximum of 87 middle-class slots over each two-year period.
"I think one of the great lies is that this has anything to do with the middle class," NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said.
"The people who have to express that are the 400 players who are being held hostage to a small group that I'm not familiar with," Stern added.
This is not the first time Stern has butted heads with Falk. In the absence of union leadership during the 1995 lockout, Falk and attorney Jeffrey Kessler led a failed union decertification movement.
Kessler has been a member of Hunter's negotiating team and reportedly is close to Falk. He was among one of the six people at Sunday's five-hour meeting in Denver which produced the league's ultimatum.
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