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Union gets on ball, files unfair labor practice charges

12/1/2006 - NBA

NEW YORK -- The players' association filed two unfair labor
practice charges Friday against the NBA over issues with the new
ball and the league's crackdown on player complaints.

The charges were filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

"I think that's right within the NBA's wheelhouse," Dallas
owner Mark Cuban said. "They say the NBA stands for `Nothing But
Attorneys,' so we're going to be great at dealing with those
issues."

A number of players publicly have complained about changing the
ball from leather to a microfiber composite. Although players are
adjusting to the new ball, they're having a much harder time with
the crackdown on reactions after the whistle, often referred to as
a "zero-tolerance policy."

NBA commissioner David Stern enacted the policy, saying players
were reacting too strongly after calls, and it has led to an
increase in technical fouls called this season.

"It takes away from your natural reaction, the things that make
basketball what it is," said Jerry Stackhouse, the Mavericks'
player representative. "You think Bill Bradley never hit the
support after he was called for a foul? That's the model citizen of
all former NBA players. It's just a natural thing to do."

With players fined for each technical they receive, union
director Billy Hunter told The Associated Press last month that
legal action could be the next step if Stern didn't tell the
referees to "back off."

There have been 175 unsportsmanlike technicals called through
225 games this season. There were 120 through the same number of
games last season, though the number is on par with the amount from
two years ago.

"Our obligation to represent our membership dictates the filing
of these actions," Hunter said in a statement. "There is virtual
unanimity amongst the players about their concerns and intense
dislike for the new synthetic ball and the 'zero tolerance' policy.

"After extensive consultation with our membership and player
leadership we determined that this was the appropriate course of
action."

Some players still seem most upset about the first change to the
game ball in more than 35 years.

"Honestly, it gets to a point where, you can change the way our
shorts are, you know, you can change if our wristbands are too
high, you can change the dress code," LeBron James said. "That's
something that's controllable. But when it gets to the point where
you change the basketball which, this is what we use every single
day. Every single day, every single minute, 82 games. Plus
preseason, plus playoffs. It just kind of didn't make sense.

"The only thing that we love the most is the basketball. That's
your comfort. I mean, without your basketball, it doesn't work.
That was my biggest problem, was, why would you change something
that means so much to us? It didn't make sense to me at all."

Added Seattle's Ray Allen, one of the NBA's best shooters:
"Every guy I've talked to, to a man, is in disagreement about the
ball. The bottom line is we're out there playing and the ball is
not going in like we know we're capable of putting it in, or like
we've done in the past."

NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre said the league was "reviewing
what they have filed."

The players feel they were entitled to have input on both
changes before they were put into play. In its release, the union
said the "zero-tolerance policy" was implemented without any
consultation or advanced notice as required "according to the
terms of the National Labor Relations Act and the 2005 NBA/NBPA
Collective Bargaining Agreement."

"You never want to feel that the NBA's a dictatorship,"
Wizards veteran Antonio Daniels said.

The section of the CBA regarding On-Court Conduct, states, in
part:

"Prior to the date on which any new rule promulgated by the NBA
becomes effective, the NBA shall provide notice of such new rule to
the Players Association and consult with the Players Association
with respect thereto."

The crackdown isn't a new rule, however, but rather a point of
emphasis. Under Stern's directive, players are fined $1,000 for
each of their first five technicals. The fine increases by $500 for
each five after that, capped by a $2,500 penalty for each one
starting with the 16th. A one-game suspension also comes at that
point and for every other technical thereafter.

"To give a technical foul, it's giving money back," Stackhouse
said. "If it's a technical foul, all right, penalize the team. But
don't take guys' money for natural reactions toward heat of the
moment things. We're not robots. They would say they don't want us
to become robots, but that's what it's becoming.

"Everything doesn't have to be we're going to show you by
taking your money away. A thousand dollars is a thousand dollars,
no matter whether you are making $9 million or $30,000."

Players also argue they weren't involved in the decision to use
a new ball. The league unveiled it in June and sent one to its
teams and all players before the start of training camp. It also
was used in the All-Star game and during summer league play.

Superstars such as Shaquille O'Neal and James are among those
who have blasted it, and many others have complained that it feels
and performs far differently than the old leather ball, criticizing
the way it bounces off the floor and the rim.

"I was surprised when they announced that they were changing
the ball," Sacramento's Shareef Abdur-Rahim. "That shouldn't
happen without some input from the players. I've never cared for
the new ball, and I'm a big guy. When ballhandlers like Steve Nash
and Jason Kidd are complaining about it, that says a lot."