NBA Commissioner David Stern quickly discredited the players’ attempt to take legal action as a “charade” in an interview with ESPN, calling the move a tragedy that could lead the league into “the nuclear winter.” He was highly critical of the “badly misled” union that he said is bent on self-destruction.
“There will ultimately be a new collective bargaining agreement,” Stern said in a statement issued by the league, “but the 2011-12 season is now in jeopardy.”
Billy Hunter, who was the union’s executive director but will now head the players’ trade association, said Stern’s ultimatum to accept the league’s most recent proposal or receive a worse offer later was “extremely unfair.” Hunter said the union was forced to take this next step after Stern told the players last week that the owners were done negotiating them.
“We’ve arrived at the conclusion that the collective bargaining process has completely broken down,” Hunter said.
Although Stern did not announce the cancellation of any more games, Washington Wizards free agent and union vice president Maurice Evans said the players were aware of the risks of taking this path. Players were scheduled to miss their first paycheck Tuesday.
“We understand the consequences of potentially missing the season; we understand the consequences that players could potentially face if things don’t go our way, but it’s a risk worth taking,” Evans said. “It’s the right move to do.”
By taking their interests to the courts rather than the negotiating table, the NBA players would be employing a strategy similar to that used earlier this year by the NFL players, who filed to disband their union shortly before the owners locked them out in March. That led to a series of court battles over the next several months — with the players challenging the legality of the lockout and the league objecting to the legitimacy of the union’s dissolution.
Those issues ended up not amounting to much, as a new labor agreement was reached in August while legal appeals were still pending.
The significant difference in the NBA’s case is one of timing. While the NFL was forced to cancel only one exhibition game, the NBA already has canceled the first four weeks of its regular season, and Stern has said the league will need 30 days from the time an agreement is reached before games can begin. If that’s the case, the league’s popular Christmas Day schedule appears to be threatened — and if the courts are to provide the resolution, the entire season is in question.