By now, you've seen the first fallen flakes of the NBA's "nuclear winter." The league gave its players a deadline to either drop dead or deal last week; the players rejected the league's terrible offer on Monday and are reforming their players' union as a trade association. The NBA responded by canceling games to Dec. 15 (which it would have done even if the players had signed up for the lousy deal), and the league's players decided to gather behind attorney David Boies and file two antitrust lawsuits against the NBA on Tuesday.
In interviews and statements on Tuesday, Boies took clear aim at the league for pushing too hard for the perfect deal even after winning hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of agreed-upon concessions from the players already in negotiations. Here's Boies, via the Associated Press:
"By overplaying their hand, by pushing the players beyond any line of reasonableness, I think they caused this. You don't give up hundreds of millions of dollars unless you want to make a deal and that's what the players were doing," Boies said. "I think it was mistake to push it as far as they did."
And it could potentially cost them billions.
The players are seeking "treble damages"—meaning triple the amount of the more than $2 billion they would have made under a full 2011-12 season—for what they argue is irreparable harm by preventing them from playing in their "very short" NBA careers.
Boies also went on to point out the league's adamant refusal to negotiate for nearly the entirety of the 2011 summer and NBA commissioner David Stern's "take it or leave it" date as clear on-record indications of an absence of good-faith bargaining, and though we don't know how the suits will turn out, it's hard to dispute Boies' point in this regard.
The only real question now is, well, "now what?"
Hard to say. Although that long-forgotten claim the NBA's players filed with the National Labor Relations Board could find some new legs in the wake of Stern's no-bones-about-it demand for a decision last week. Here's Lester Munson, from ESPN.com:
"We have been hoping for a decision from the NLRB for three months," a source told ESPN.com. "It is difficult to tell the players to be patient and to wait for a good decision when there has been no action from the board."
The NLRB's investigation of the players' complaint is complete. The next step is a decision from Lafe Solomon, the NLRB's general counsel. He can rule that the players are wrong, ending the process. Or he can rule that the players have a valid grievance about the owners' take-it-or-leave-it negotiation technique and ask a federal court to end the lockout.
A spokesperson for the NLRB refused to discuss the timing or the substance of Solomon's decision.
As has been mentioned before, David Boies also represented the NFL against that league's players lockout suit. And we saw how that turned out -- football only lost part of its preseason, and its lockout only ended when both sides decided to finally sit down and recognize the concerns and limitations of its negotiating partner. Again, we're coming off as virulently anti-owner in these pages, but it's fair to fairly point out that the players have been more than fair as they continue to give back to the owners. Despite all the legal machinations of the first part of this unfortunate, needless week of bickering.
And if you thought you understood precious little about this ongoing labor negotiation, well, it's about to get a whole lot more confusing. Nobody's fault but the players, and (especially) the owners.
- David Boies