TORONTO — Kevin Willis of the Toronto Raptors defied his union leadership Tuesday and called for NBA players to vote by secret ballot in hopes of ending the lockout.
"The majority would vote for the owners' latest proposal, just to start playing ball again," Willis said, referring to the offer made last week by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Stern, in Aspen, Colo., on vacation, talked about scrapping the season after getting nowhere in a phone call to union chief Billy Hunter in Oakland.
"I've told him we have serious disagreements," Stern said. "I'd love to sit down and negotiate. I would say we are getting pretty close" to losing the season.
"If nothing happens in the next several days," Stern said, "I think I'll be required to schedule a board meeting of our Board of Governors for right after the first of the year."
Stern has to go to the Board of Governors to get permission to cancel the season.
Stern said he's "not that interested in blowing it [the season] up. But if he [Hunter] insists we do that, we may not have any other choice."
Tuesday marked the 10th day since the last round of bargaining, and players continue to lose $50 million a week in salaries.
The league and the players are trying to determine how to divide about $2 billion in annual revenue.
Steve Woods, Willis' agent and a professor of sports business at South Carolina, has an antagonistic relationship with the union. In October, he was escorted by security guards from a players' meeting in Las Vegas.
"I believe that a blind ballot would be acceptable," Woods said. "I think 80% would accept it [the proposal], based on the 15 players I talk to on a regular basis. They would accept it and be ready to play tomorrow."
Union spokesman Dan Wasserman didn't agree.
"We conducted conference calls over the last two weeks with more than 120 players on each call," he said. "At least a dozen players on each call specifically told us they will wait for the negotiating committee to recommend a deal that is worthy of putting to a vote.
"Every player is entitled to his opinion, although we have not heard from Kevin Willis directly. But the vast majority of players support the authority of the negotiating committee to recommend a deal."
"A secret ballot is something the union is adamantly against because they would feel it would tear a hole in their blanket of unity," Woods said. "The players' union unity is based more on peer pressure and collective egos rather than on reasonable minds coming to a reasonable conclusion."
Jerome Stanley, an agent for Brian Shaw, Todd Day and other players, says his clients do not find the deal acceptable because it does not protect the interests of middle-class players.
In an effort to resolve the deadlock, the union has proposed mediation, but the league rejects such an approach. Now, the Rev. Jesse Jackson has offered to mediate.
In an interview with James Brown for Intersport's special, "Faces of Courage," the civil rights leader said the players, their agents and the owners "must give something to the middle" to restore a "bond of trust" that has evaporated.
"I would like to help," Jackson said. "I think it would be a great thing to . . . between now and New Year's, get these players back to work again."