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NBA PLAYERS BEGIN VOTING PROCESS

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When Terry Dehere went to cast his vote in the NBA players' decertification election, he was wearing NBA logo socks and accompanied by a friend sporting his No. 24 Los Angeles Clippers jersey.

If those subtle signs weren't enough to indicate that Dehere's thoughts were on the basketball court, his words were."Hopefully, the season can start on time, and we can play basketball," Dehere said Wednesday after voting - he wouldn't say how - in Newark, N.J.

His comments were echoed by players who cast votes across the country to either accept a proposed labor agreement or disband their union and try to force an end to a 61-day-old lockout through court order.

Results of the vote, conducted at 47 National Labor Relations Board offices Wednesday and Sept. 7, will be announced Sept. 12 in New York. NBA commissioner David Stern has said if decertification wins, the lockout will delay the start of the season.

Regardless of which side they were on, players said their chief concern was playing on Nov. 3 as scheduled.

"For 12 years, there was never a question about what I'd do in October," when training camp begins, said Atlanta's Craig Ehlo, who also kept his vote a secret.

It was unknown exactly how many of the approximately 420 eligible players showed up to cast their secret ballots. A "yes" vote was for approval of the six-year collective bargaining agreement, while a "no" vote was for decertifying the union.

NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said his reports indicated a "large" turnout, something the league and the union believed would help them get the simple majority needed to decide the issue.

Prior to the balloting, the group backing decertification was confident it has enough votes to prevail.

While some players said they struggled to make sense of all the conflicting information and the complex provisions of the deal, they all understood the fan dissatisfaction that could result if games were lost to the labor dispute.

"It's just what we saw in baseball and hockey," said Marty Conlon, a free agent who played last season for Milwaukee. "If basketball drops the ball here, it could be dangerous."

In Los Angeles, the Lakers' Elden Campbell and Kurt Rambis, pulling up in separate white limousines, cast their votes along with at least seven other players.

In Detroit, Pistons guard Joe Dumars shared a limo ride to the NLRB office with teammates Terry Mills and Mark Macon, along with Dallas' Doug Smith. New Jersey's Derrick Coleman, voting at the same time, said all four went for the deal.

"I'm for the union," said Coleman, among the league's highest-paid players last year. "I think we all should settle down and vote for the union. I think it's been good to us all these years."

The controversy over whether the labor deal is better for owners than for players has put teammates and friends on opposite sides. The union leadership has the support of Karl Malone and Shaquille O'Neal, while the decertification movement is led by Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, who have been active lobbying their colleagues.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Malone's deliveries may be in Europe

Karl Malone says if the union is decertified and the NBA lockout delays the season, he may play in Europe.