In a move that made the loss of the 2011-12 NBA season more likely than ever, the players’ union announced Monday that it would file a disclaimer of interest and dissolve in order to file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA.
The National Basketball Players Association gathered nearly 50 players, including the union representatives for the 30 teams, in New York to discuss the latest proposal from the league, which included a 50-50 split of basketball-related income and would establish a 72-game season beginning Dec. 15.
The players in the room, including all-stars Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook, unanimously decided to reject the deal and decline to continue negotiations.
“This is the best decision for.players,” union president Derek Fisher said. “I want to reiterate that point: that a lot of individual players have a lot of things personally at stake in terms of their careers and where they stand. And right now they feel it’s important — we all feel it’s important to all our players, not just the ones in this room, but our entire group — that we not only try to get a deal done for today but for the body of NBA players that will come into this league over the next decade and beyond.”
Union executive director Billy Hunter said the ultimatum from NBA Commissioner David Stern to take the current offer or receive a worse offer later was “extremely unfair” and forced the union to take the next step. He added that the union has hired attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and David Boies to represent it in a class-action suit against the NBA. Kessler and Boies were on opposite sides of the NFL antitrust lawsuit — Kessler for the NFL players, Boies for the league — that ended with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit ruling in favor of the NFL.
“We think we’ve got a stellar team, and we’re prepared to file this antitrust action against the NBA because we think that’s probably the best situation where players can get their due process,” Hunter said.
Stern quickly offered a rebuttal on ESPN’s SportsCenter. He declined to cancel more games, stating that the calendar would determine what the league does, but claimed that the NBA was “about to go into the nuclear winter” because the “badly misled” union was “hellbent on self-destruction.”
Stern later issued a statement in which he attacked Kessler, who told the Washington Post last week that the owners were treating the players like “plantation workers instead of partners.” Kessler later apologized, but there was clearly no love lost between the two.
Stern’s statement read: “At a bargaining session in February 2010, Jeffrey Kessler, counsel for the union, threatened that the players would abandon the collective bargaining process and start an antitrust lawsuit against our teams if they did not get a bargaining resolution that was acceptable to them. In anticipation of this day, the NBA filed an unfair labor practice charge before the National Labor Relations Board asserting that, by virtue of its continued threats, the union was not bargaining in good faith.
“We also began a litigation in federal court in anticipation of this same bargaining tactic. The NBA has negotiated in good faith throughout the collective bargaining process, but — because our revised bargaining proposal was not to its liking — the union has decided to make good on Mr. Kessler’s threat. There will ultimately be a new collective bargaining agreement, but the 2011-12 season is now in jeopardy.”
The NBA filed a lawsuit in New York district court anticipation of the union decertifying and threatened to void all current contracts.
When asked about that lawsuit, Hunter replied, “We don’t think it’s going to have much impact at all. We’re convinced, having discussed this matter rather extensively with our counsel, we’re in pretty good shape. Obviously the NBA filed the suit in an attempt to forum shop. They were trying to anticipate that if this moment came, that they felt they stood a better chance of prevailing if it was in New York as opposed to some other jurisdiction. We just have to live with that.”