NBA cancels more games
NEW YORK — Locked-out players began their legal assault on the NBA on Tuesday, filing an antitrust lawsuit that demands an end to what they allege is an illegal boycott of the workforce. They are seeking monetary damages for lost wages, which would be tripled under antitrust law.
Resolution of the lawsuit, filed in federal court for the Northern District of California by the lawyers David Boies and Jonathan Schiller, could take months or years, but the immediate goal is to push NBA owners back to the bargaining table.
''I think it is in everybody's interest to try to resolve this promptly," Boies said in a news conference at the National Basketball Players Association headquarters in New York. "The longer it goes on, the greater the damages that the teams will face, the greater the damages the players will suffer. And perhaps most important of all, the longer basketball fans will be deprived of basketball."
The lawsuit was filed in collaboration with the players association, which continues to operate as a trade association under the leadership of Billy Hunter, the executive director. The lead plaintiffs listed are Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups of the New York Knicks, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the free agent Leon Powe and the San Antonio Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard.
An NBA spokesman said the league had not seen the complaint, but added: "It's a shame that the players have chosen to litigate instead of negotiate. They warned us from the early days of these negotiations that they would sue us if we didn't satisfy them at the bargaining table and they appear to have followed through on their threats."
A separate lawsuit was filed earlier Tuesday by a law firm representing Caron Butler of the Dallas Mavericks, Ben Gordon of the Detroit Pistons, Anthony Tolliver of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Derrick Williams, a Timberwolves draft pick. That lawsuit asks for both monetary damages and a permanent injunction.
Other lawsuits are expected now that the collective bargaining process has collapsed, and the players are no longer protected by a union. As individuals, they have access to federal antitrust law. A separate faction of players — who had been pushing for decertification of the union before it disbanded — might pursue its own lawsuit. Some agents behind that movement are also considering a lawsuit on behalf of rookies, who could be considered a separate class since they have never had a contract or paid union dues.
Eventually, all the lawsuits will have to be combined, with the players and the owners each arguing to have the case heard in the jurisdiction it favorsLabor talks broke down last Thursday, with the league saying it had made its final offer and with commissioner David Stern saying that negotiations were over. Stern asked the players to approve the league's proposal, or have it replaced by a more onerous offer. The players rejected the ultimatum and instead disbanded the union, through a procedure known as "disclaimer of interest.
Boies said Stern's ultimatum "turned out to be a mistake."
"If you're in a poker game and you run a bluff and the bluff works, you're a hero," Boies said. "If somebody calls your bluff, you lose. I think the owners overplayed their hand."
The NBA players are not asking for a preliminary injunction, as the NFL players did in challenging a lockout last spring. Boies, who represented the NFL in that case, said that obtaining a preliminary injunction "would be very difficult to get" and that pursuing it "would delay the case perhaps for many months." Instead, the players are seeking summary judgment for monetary damages.
"We believe the right way to address the players' damages is to ask the owners to pay for it," Boies said. "And since under the antitrust laws they have to pay three times damages, that's a pretty good incentive to end" the lockout.
He added, "We would hope they would do that on their own. We would hope that it's not necessary to go to trial and get huge damages to bring them to a point where they are prepared to abide by the law."
Coincidentally, Tuesday was the day that NBA players missed their first paychecks, which would have totaled in excess of $170 million. Anthony, the All-Star forward, would have received a check for $1.5 million.
While the lawyers wrestle in court, the players and the owners could conceivably return to the bargaining table, just as the NFL players and owners did last spring while their litigation proceeded. There would be limits on what issues could be negotiated in the absence of a union, which would have to be reconstituted to complete a labor deal.
In an interview with ESPN on Monday, Stern said, "Now there's no one to negotiate with, because the union's not there, and we won't be doing anything soon with respect to their lawyers, whoever their lawyers may be."