Lawyers merge lawsuits on behalf of NBA players


Lawyer David Boies arrives for a news conference in New York City last week. (Patrick McDermott/GETTY IMAGES)
November 21, 2011

Lawyers representing the players in two antitrust lawsuits against the NBA have decided to merge their efforts into one, but they have yet to come together with the league to discuss a settlement.

Attorney David Boies announced on Monday that the players voluntarily withdrew the federal complaint filed last week in California and filed a consolidated lawsuit including all nine plaintiffs from both cases, in addition to five more players, in Minnesota. Boies explained that the courts would’ve probably forced the players to combine the cases, and that the players are focusing on Minnesota because it has a less congested docket and a good record of handling antitrust suits.

“This should permit us to expedite the case,” Boies said.

The National Basketball Players Association disbanded last week, clearing the way for the federal lawsuits, but Boies has been adamant that he would rather have the NBA labor dispute settled through negotiations than litigated through the court system. Boies, however, added that he hasn’t had any contact with the league about settlement talks.

“If the league’s approach is to ignore this litigation and go into a state of denial, like this will go away, that will not be in anybody’s interest,” Boies said. “I think they’ve made clear that they have no interest in talking to us. It takes two people to make a deal.”

Boies said the NBA must respond to the Minnesota complaint by Dec. 5 and that he wouldn’t be surprised if there is a court date set shortly thereafter.

In anticipation of the union decertifying, the NBA filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in the Southern District of New York in August and issued a statement on Monday about the amended lawsuit in Minnesota.

Boies filed his lawsuit in the Oakland branch of the U.S. District Court in Northern California but it was assigned to Judge Samuel Conti in San Francisco last Thursday. A case management conference was scheduled for March 9, which surely would’ve meant the cancellation of the season.

“We assume that Mr. Boies was not happy with either the reassignment of the case from Oakland to San Francisco or the fact that the new judge scheduled the first conference for March 2012,” said Rick Buchanan, NBA executive vice president and general counsel. “This is consistent with Mr. Boies’s inappropriate shopping for a forum that he can only hope will be friendlier to his baseless legal claims.”

The lawsuit claims that the NBA lockout, which began on July 1, is an illegal boycott and a violation of antitrust laws. Games have already been canceled through Dec. 15 after players refused the last offer from the owners, believing that the proposal was restrictive to free agents and harshly punished high-spending teams.

Fourteen players will now be represented in the case: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billips, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Leon Powe from the complaint originally filed in Northern California; Caron Butler, Ben Gordon, Anthony Tolliver and Derrick Williams from the complaint originally filed in Minnesota; and Baron Davis, Steve Nash, Anthony Randolph, Rajon Rondo and Sebastian Telfair have been added.

All NFL labor disputes in the past two decades have been held in Minnesota the past two decades, and U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson issued a temporary injunction lifting the NFL lockout last summer. The decision was eventually overturned on appeal by the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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