Right Field

Hopes for an NBA Season Dwindle

After a weekend in which Commissioner David Stern hyped the latest deal that NBA owners offered to players as the best hope to save their season, the NBAPA rejected the offer and plans to pursue aggressive legal action against the league.

The next step in this process will be a union decertification and lawsuit.

“We’re prepared to file this antitrust action against the NBA,” union executive director Billy Hunter said Monday, the 137th day of the lockout. “That’s the best situation where players can get their due process.”

Hunter said players were not prepared to accept NBA commissioner David Stern’s ultimatum that it accept the deal or risk lesser offers in the future, saying they thought it was “extremely unfair.”

Decertification will create a number of thorny issues to pick through. The NBA has consistently claimed that decertification was being used as an unfair negotiating tactic, and even filed suit in U.S. district court alleging so. Now that the players are intent on following this track, though, this becomes a courtroom battle, not a negotiating session. Michael McCann had a good rundown of a lot of the issues:

Decertification would provide players with a powerful legal weapon: the ability to file federal antitrust litigation against the league. Indeed, without collective bargaining between NBA players and the league, various restrictions on how teams compete with one another — such as the salary cap and the NBA draft — would become subject to federal antitrust law. Although generally popular with fans and although they promote parity, these restrictions are also at least partly anticompetitive. After all, they reflect agreements among competing teams to refrain from free-market competition for players.

The NBA also boldly demands that if the union decertifies in a way endorsed by a court, the league should be able to declare all player contracts void and unenforceable. The league insists that because the Uniform Player Contract (signed by every NBA player) is contained in and governed by the collective bargaining agreement, player contracts should become void once the collective bargaining relationship between the league and players ends. In response, the players can argue that the dissolution of a union should not empower an employer to void contracts between individual employees and the employer. If the NBA ultimately prevails in its argument on player contracts, players would collectively stand to lose billions of dollars. It would also throw the league and its franchises in an uncertain state…

In short, this is bad, bad news for NBA fans. David Stern claimed to have a plan in place for a 72-game season that would have started in December if agreement could have been reached around the owners’ most recent offer. With all the action sure to follow around decertification and antitrust lawsuits, there looks to be little hope for getting a formal agreement in place anytime soon. I’d been an optimist up to this point, but it’s looking very unlikely that we’ll see any NBA games at all this season.