Union gets on ball, files unfair labor practice charges

Updated: December 1, 2006, 11:30 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Sheridan's take ...
Chris Sheridan
Sheridan
Some players have actually complained that the new ball cuts their hands. Complaining over technicals, however, might not get too far, Chris Sheridan blogs.

• For more Sheridan blog, Click here. Insider

"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."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press