Day 138 of the NBA Lockout finds the state of the league at its absolute worst moment. What started as passive-aggressive negotiating in which the two sides barely spoke, turned into a series of hasty talks that allegedly produced some measure of progress, so much so that then NBAPA executive director (now executive director of the National Basketball Trade Association) characterized the sides as being “on the two-yard line” of a getting a deal done. How we all miss October.
November has given us one take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum from the owners, a rejection from the players, then a final ultimatum from Commissioner David Stern, which led to a final rejection from the players, which also led to the dissolving of the players union and plans to sue the NBA.
The locked-out players made good on those plans today by filing two class-action antitrust lawsuits against the NBA Wednesday, claiming that the league has violating antitrust laws by not allowing the players to work.
The players have retained attorney David Boies, who was last seen representing the NFL after their players filed for decertification after being locked out in March. Despite the somewhat strange reversal of arguments, Boies believes the ultimatums set by Stern and his statement that the NBA was done negotiating after throwing out their last offer gives the players a strong case in court.
“If you’re in a poker game, and you run a bluff, and the bluff works, you’re a hero. If someone calls your bluff, you lose. I think the owners overplayed their hand,” Boies said at the players’ association headquarters. “They did a terrific job of taking a very hard line and pushing the players to make concession after concession after concession, but greed is not only a terrible thing — it’s a dangerous thing.”
The players are seeking “treble damages” — triple the amount of what they stand to lose in salary if the 2011-12 season is lost, which is north of $2 billion. The lawsuits could either detonate the entire season, due to the timing (the players would have been better served filing suit in July when it was clear the owners had no interest in seriously negotiating with them. Although, the fact that they missed their first round of paychecks on November 15 allows them to show at least some damages), or it could produce enough leverage to bring the owners back to the table to negotiate a deal both sides can live with.
Until then, the prospect of having NBA basketball in Winter 2011 is nearly dead, as the Commissioner Stern, who has said previously that the league needed at least 30 days from the agreement of a deal to start a season, canceled all games scheduled up to December 15, which totals to 324 games, or 26 percent of the season. Any decision to cancel the entire season wouldn’t come until January at the latest, and would be entirely dependent on the two sides negotiating in a hotel boardroom and not litigating in a courtroom.