NEW YORK — Armegeddon arrived suddenly for the NBA today, with the players’ union legally disbanding and saying it will file a lawsuit seeking triple damages under anti-trust laws rather than accept the final proposal put forward by NBA owners.
Billy Hunter is now disempowered, David Stern says the season is in jeopardy, and the new man in charge is high-powered attorney David Boies, who represented NFL owners defending themselves against a decertification movement last summer and whose most famous case, Bush v. Gore, ended in a loss (he represented Al Gore in the controversial 2000 U.S. presidential election).
More than 50 players met for more than three hours at a Times Square hotel, first going over the latest proposal from the league, then hearing what their legal options were. The one that was chosen, a disclaimer of interest, immediately removed the National Basketball Players Association as the bargaining representative for the players, technically making them non-unionized.
“The guys were pretty docile and placid until that point,” said Hunter, who retains his position as the de facto leader of the players — although their lead representatives going forward will be attorneys Boies and Jeffrey Kessler. “The players felt it was more like a surrender than getting a deal.”
Boies did not enter the players’ meeting until after their lunch break, and he quickly sold a contingent of athletes that included Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Chauncey Billups that his strategy was the best for them to pursue.
Union president Derek Fisher said the motion to file the disclaimer came on a unanimous vote.
“I’ve got one of the best in the country, I’ve got David Boies, and I’m pretty confident with David Boies going forward assisting Jeffrey Kessler,” Hunter said.
The union chose to file a disclaimer of interest (it was hand-delivered to the league office) rather than a petition for decertification because it will speed up the process and extend the window of time for which the NBA owners could possibly be liable for triple damages. If the entire NBA season was to be lost and the players won in court, the $2 billion they were due to make in salaries would become $6 billion.
Union officials discounted the notion that they were calling commissioner David Stern’s bluff, saying the disclaimer route would be a pretty radical way to make such a statement.
“It came down to a matter of how far can you push? And what are the limits,” a union source told SheridanHoops.com. “The owners went past them.”
Stern issued a statement through the league office:
“At a bargaining session in February 2010, Jeffrey Kessler, counsel for the union, threatened that the players would abandon the collective bargaining process and start an antitrust lawsuit against our teams if they did not get a bargaining resolution that was acceptable to them. In anticipation of this day, the NBA filed an unfair labor practice charge before the National Labor Relations Board asserting that, by virtue of its continued threats, the union was not bargaining in good faith. We also began a litigation in federal court in anticipation of this same bargaining tactic.
“The NBA has negotiated in good faith throughout the collective bargaining process, but — because our revised bargaining proposal was not to its liking – the union has decided to make good on Mr. Kessler’s threat,” Stern said. “There will ultimately be a new collective bargaining agreement, but the 2011-12 season is now in jeopardy.”