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Steve Aschburner

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Jeffrey Kessler (right) was portrayed as one of the more combative figures on the players' side during talks.
Patrick McDermott/NBAE/Getty Images

Players' attorney 'very optimistic' as union re-forms


Posted Nov 30 2011 7:25AM

As NBA players began the process Tuesday of re-forming their union to move toward labor peace and a 2011-12 regular season, their lead attorney through the five-month-old lockout said he was "very optimistic" the collective bargaining agreement would get completed without incident.

Aldridge: Players begin process of reforming union

"Anything is possible," said outside counsel Jeff Kessler. "But I am very optimistic that we will get a collective bargaining agreement done. I think both sides are very committed to working out their remaining differences and bringing back basketball on Christmas Day."

The lack of updates in recent days had left some fans and league insiders nervous, the quiet unusual compared to what literally had been round-the-clock coverage and media reports right through the owners' and players' handshake agreement in the wee hours Saturday. The formal process of dismantling the players' antitrust lawsuit against the league, re-forming the National Basketball Players Assocation and shifting from out-of-court settlement talks to collective bargaining for remaining "B-list" issues was methodical, behind closed doors and lousy at generating headlines.

In that void, some wondered if the whole process might get derailed by, for instance, a "B-list" dispute or a flair-up of emotions. And Kessler -- combative start to finish as the players' advocate -- loomed as a possible candidate to thwart a deal. He was, after all, cited in multiple reports for rocking the final session Friday via speaker phone with an 11th-hour suggestion that the players' split of revenues bump up by an extra percent.

That's why, when Kessler made things sound so smoothly Tuesday, that was worthy of a headline.

"My role is to be the voice of the players and give them my best advice," he said, "and to try to get a fair deal. That's all I've done for now more than two decades. In the end, it works out pretty well for the players and I think it works out pretty well for the league."

And from where Kessler sits, this looks to be headed toward a "fair deal?"

"Yes," he said. "That's certainly the hope."

The players' side was busy Tuesday seeking authorization from its members to restore the NBPA to its previous status (based on acknowledgement by the league). U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz in Minneapolis had granted their request to issue a stay of all court proceedings until Dec. 9, by which time a new CBA is expected to be approved. If so, that's when NBA training camps and free agency begin, in advance of the Dec. 25 openers on a 66-game regular season.

Kessler said that, while the union's disclaimer of interest was a simple and swift process, re-forming was a bit more complex. "You need to get a majority of members to say they want to be in a union," he said. "So it's a little different process."

Scattered across the country and, in some cases, outside the U.S. borders, many players were believed to be submitting their authorization electronically. Kessler said the process would take "a couple of days," mentioning the NFL players' similar procedure and turnaround time in their lockout resolution as a reference.

"Once the union's back there [for final negotiations], you'll see the executive board of the union and Billy Hunter of course," Kessler said. "I'll be there. And we'll get the collective bargaining agreement done."

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