NEW YORK – Rejecting the owners' take-it-or-leave-it labor offer, NBA players decided to dissolve their union in a process that could win them leverage with the filing of antitrust suit against the league – while also threatening the 2011-12 season.
"There will ultimately be a new collective bargaining agreement, but the 2011-12 season is now in jeopardy," NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement in response to the union's action.
The players' decision came after a four-hour meeting with union officials and several players representing each of the league's 30 teams. NBA commissioner David Stern had threatened the players with a worse offer if they didn't accept the current proposal.
"We've arrived at the conclusion that the collective bargaining process has completely broken down," union executive director Billy Hunter said.
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Union officials served the league with a "disclaimer of interest," officially informing Stern of their plans to disband and become a trade organization. Jeffrey Kessler, who had acted as the union's lead negotiator, will represent the players in their litigation with the league, along with David Boies, a famed antitrust attorney. Boies worked for the NFL against the players' antitrust suit this past summer, putting him on opposite sides of that sport's labor battle with Kessler.
Neither Boies, nor Kessler, would commit to the union filing an antitrust suit, saying they are still evaluating their options. Some agents are discussing the separate filing of an antitrust suit against the NBA on behalf of league's rookie players, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
"I would hope that, in the face of a disclaiming union, where there's no hope of collective bargaining, that the owners would reconsider whether, under these circumstances, it makes sense to continue to boycott," Boies said. "But I have no idea what [the owners'] strategy is."
The players had agreed to accept a 50-50 revenue split with the owners, provided they resolved some of the system issues that could limit player movement. In several media interviews over the weekend, Stern repeatedly said the owners were done negotiating and that the players must accept the league's current proposal or risk a worse offer.
Union officials said the players at Monday's meeting voted unanimously to file the disclaimer of interest rather than put the owners' proposal up for a full membership vote.
"This is the best decision for the 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."
Stern repeatedly called the union's disclaimer a "negotiating tactic" in an interview with ESPN and said the players had received bad advice from their union leaders.
"They seem hell-bent on self-destruction," Stern said. "…It's just a big charade. It's really irresponsible given the timing of it. The union is ratcheting it up to see if they can scare the owners into something, and that's not happening."
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The league had planned for this possible scenario with the players, alleging Kessler had threatened an antitrust suit in a February 2010 bargaining session. The NBA filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board – and also began litigation in federal court – alleging the union wasn't bargaining in good faith.
"We have negotiated in good faith for over two years and we've done everything anybody could reasonably expect of us, particularly when you look at the number of givebacks and concessions," Hunter said. "The players just felt they had given enough and the NBA was not willing or prepared to negotiate. Things were not going to get better."
Stern warned the league was about to enter a "nuclear winter."
The players have been "hoodwinked by the combination of a huge void of any leadership and the chasm being filled by a self-serving Kessler," one ownership source told Yahoo! Sports. "It is inconceivable the path they've been manipulated to go down."
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