The NBA agent advisory committee met in New York last Friday with players' association executive director Billy Hunter to discuss strategy for the negotiation of any new deal. Eleven high-profile agents attended, and two others, Arn Tellem and Steve Kauffman, who were on the West Coast, had arranged to be briefed on the proceedings. The most significant no-show was the biggest power broker of them all, David Falk.
The primary objective of the gathering was to demonstrate solidarity between the agents and the union. That solidarity was conspicuously lacking two years ago, when stars such as Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing challenged the players' association, then under the leadership of Simon Gourdine, when it was negotiating the collective bargaining agreement that the owners now intend to revisit.
Hunter said he viewed the potential reopening of the agreement as an "opportunity to recapture lost ground" and sounded the union's familiar battle cry: Abolish both the salary cap and the draft. While the agents and Hunter publicly downplayed the possibility of decertifying the union (a move that would free the players to sue to eliminate the cap and the draft as NBA antitrust violations), players' association sources say it was an important subject at the meeting.
The agents discussed ideas on how to bolster support for the players' association on the league's two weakest union teams—the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers—and how to deal with two of the most vocal antiunion players, the Jazz's Karl Malone and Charles Barkley of the Houston Rockets.
Malone doesn't use an agent and spoke out against decertification during the last labor battle. Barkley, who may have more pressing matters to address following a bar fight in Orlando early Sunday morning that led to his being charged with aggravated battery and resisting arrest, has always gone his own way.
Can two dissenters stop a union movement? Not alone. But the players' association and the most powerful agents are well aware that the strong opposition of two superstars could influence teammates and go a long way toward derailing the union's battle plan.
Could that be Michigan athletic director Tom Goss scrambling to find the high road after hiring a new basketball coach to replace the fired Steve Fisher? Before the Wolverines finally gave 34-year-old Fisher assistant Brian Ellerbe the dreaded tag of "interim coach" last Friday, Goss threw several programs into turmoil by interviewing, or trying to interview, coaches already under contract. Yet Goss sought to cover his tracks by noting that he asked his seven finalists two questions: 1) How would your departure "impact" your institution? and, 2) How would it "impact" the student-athletes that you just recruited? Goss says that when those questions weren't answered to his satisfaction, he elevated Ellerbe.
Please. By the time he named Ellerbe, Goss's dealings had sent ripples all over the country. Goss first went after Cal's Ben Braun, forcing the Golden Bears to extend the contract of that highly regarded 43-year-old coach. Then Goss went after Bradley's Jim Molinari, 42, forcing a wedge between the coach and athletic director Ken Kavanagh when Kavanagh wouldn't give permission for Molinari to interview. Then Goss went after rising-star Kevin Stallings, 37, of Illinois State, forcing the players on Stallings's promising, senior-dominated team to sit around and wait while their coach talked matters over with Michigan. All told, Goss said he interviewed three dozen candidates either by phone or in person before settling on Ellerbe.
Goss didn't break any rules—if a college gives permission for its coach to talk, then he's free to talk. But he shouldn't ask us to swallow the idea that he truly cared about the other programs. Another coach in Goss's crosshairs, Southwest Missouri State's Steve Alford, didn't interview with Michigan because his contract stipulates that he can entertain offers only at certain times of the year, the week after practice opens obviously not being one of them.