There will be no basketball this holiday season. That much is clear.
Now, there may not be basketball at any point this season.
That is the prospect facing the NBA after its players rejected David Stern’s latest offer, disbanded as a union and took the first steps in filing an anti-trust lawsuit against the league.
“We’ve arrived at the conclusion that the collective bargaining process has completely broken down,” Billy Hunter said. “We have negotiated in good faith for two years, but the players have felt they have given enough.”
By filing a disclaimer of interest and not decertifying, the players can file a lawsuit as individual members of the player’s “trade association” – as they are no longer a “union” – immediately. Decertifying as a union could have taken months to reach the courtroom.
Player representatives from all 30 NBA teams – and stars like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo – joined Derek Fisher in reaching the decision. Nearly 50 players met in a Manhattan hotel Monday to discuss their options. Bringing Stern’s proposal to a player vote was considered. Ultimately, though, players decided – unanimously – to put this in the hands of their lawyers.
“This is the best decision for the players,” Fisher said. “We’re not only trying to get a deal done today, but for the body of NBA players that will come into this league over the next decade and beyond.”
“We have not chosen to be in this position,” Fisher continued. “A lockout continues to be something that is imposed on us by the league and by owners. This is not a strike. We continue to want to go to work.”
The issues keeping that from happening are still the same system issues that have stalled talks for weeks. Fisher said Stern’s revised proposal lacked any further concessions by owners regarding player restrictions in free agency.
Fisher noted they were “partially met” on one issue, there was “no change” on four issues, and that the owner’s final offer actually made “a change in their [the owners] favour” regarding a nearly “unlimited” Escrow tax. This would ensure that a percentage of players’ paychecks is withheld each season to guarantee that total player salaries do not exceed 50 per cent of the league’s BRI. If and when players’ salaries exceed those levels, the money is withheld from players and given back to owners.
“Our players were smart enough to realise that this wasn’t a deal we could accept. If it was such a good deal, I don’t think they would have had to try and sell it so hard,” Fisher said in reference to the NBA’s Twitterview and PowerPoint presentation Sunday night.
So what happens next?
Battles will shift from the boardroom to the courtroom. The players must decide on plaintiffs in their lawsuit against the league. Jeffrey Kessler and David Boies – who actually represented opposing councils during the NFL lockout – will represent the players moving forward. If the players were to win a court decision, they would be awarded $6 billion in damages.
This doesn’t preclude owners from coming back to the newly-formed trade association with a new proposal to resume negotiations. But that, if you are to believe David Stern, seems rather unlikely.
Just months removed from reaching the height of its popularity since the Jordan years, the notion of even a single NBA game this season feels far-fetched.
Instead of rooting for the Bulls or Knicks at Madison Square Garden, we are likely faced with rooting for the players or owners in some New York courthouse.
An entire season is likely lost. And all the collateral damage that comes with it.
Basketball fans, the apocalypse is upon us.
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