NEW YORK — With no one saying if it will be a secret ballot or a show of hands, locked-out NBA players started arriving in town Tuesday to cast votes that could determine if there will be a season.
Today's vote comes on the eve of the possible cancellation of the rest of the season. The balloting will be open to all NBA players, although the union emphasized that it is not a ratification vote.
Instead, players will be asked whether they support the union negotiating committee's recommendation to reject the owners' final offer.
"We're going to put it to the test," union President Patrick Ewing said, "but we're going to make sure they stand by their negotiating committee."
More than 200 players are expected to vote. A final decision on the balloting rules won't come until this morning, and union attorney Jeffrey Kessler said the particulars will not be made public.
The possibilities range from a secret ballot, with players privately voting their consciences, to a show of hands in a closed room where the peer pressure to vote in support of the committee would be overwhelming.
"I don't think the players will have any concern about the legitimacy of votes, and I don't think anybody will be coerced," Kessler said. "Everyone will have a chance to vote their conscience."
If the players vote to support the committee's recommendation, the union would then ask the commissioner and the owners to resume collective bargaining negotiations and try to hammer out a compromise agreement that would save what's left of the season.
If the players reject the committee's recommendation, the union would be expected to put the owners' final offer to an actual ratification vote.
About 400 players are eligible for the vote, scheduled for this afternoon.
One who won't be voting is Rony Seikaly of the New Jersey Nets, who feels the players should leave the decision in the hands of the negotiating committee.
"I think the owners' way of stonewalling us has worked," Seikaly said. "Players are starting to panic. The union is somewhat breaking because of all this. I thought we were going to be together, but I'm not sure if we are anymore."
The owners' final offer was presented to the union by Commissioner David Stern in Denver 1 1/2 weeks ago. Stern has been pushing for a player vote ever since, and the union finally agreed to one after the owners' negotiating committee voted, 9-0, Monday to reject the union's final offer.
That gave the union only 36 hours to set up a full membership meeting.
"Who's going to fly to New York on two days' notice after a blizzard?" Keith Askins of the Miami Heat told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. "This isn't a vote. This is out of control. A vote is when you go to the federal building and cast your ballot. This is wrong. I feel ashamed to be part of this."
Both sides will have their full negotiating committees in town by tonight, and the league's Board of Governors has scheduled a meeting for 11 a.m. Thursday.