Now that the NBA players' union has decided to break up because it believes it cannot secure a good deal in negotiations with owners, is the 2011-2012 really lost? It will depend on how the legal battle unfolds.
The next step will come in court. Yesterday, players chose to break up their union by a method called disclaimer of interest, rather than use the longer process of decertification. It's quicker, and means players can start filing anti-trust lawsuits against owners who have locked them out since July 1. They're expected to allege that the owners of the 30 NBA teams conspired to keep them from playing, as ESPN's Larry Coon notes. It could happen this week.
But even with the speedier legal action chosen by the players, owners probably won't respond in court until next month. Then comes the next legal argument - where to hold the trial. As Larry notes, owners will want to choose a federal district court in New York, where they've already got a lawsuit pending against the now-former union; players will likely favor California, because it's seen as more friendly to their position. Resolving that question will take time and there's no guarantee the trial court's decision won't be appealed.
Then comes the central point of the anti-trust case: did NBA owners wrongly conspire with each other to lock the players out? If players want to prove this they'll need to take time to lay out their case, as economics professor Andrew Zimbalist explains to ESPN.
NBA commissioner David Stern says the players' union is making a mistake, and made a bigger error this weekend when it decided against presenting the owners' last contract proposal to all unionized NBA players, according to NBA.com. "The union decided in its infinite wisdom that the proposal would not be presented to membership...we are about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA."
But the president of the defunct players union, Derek Fisher, said the move was right for the group, according to AP: "I want to reiterate that point, that a lot of individual players have a lot of things personally at stake in terms of their careers and where they stand. And right now they feel it's important — we all feel it's important to all our players, not just the ones in this room, but our entire group — that we not only try to get a deal done for today but for the body of NBA players that will come into this league over the next decade and beyond."
There are few who think yesterday's action by the players will mean an end to the deadlock now trapping owners and players. As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports sadly observed about the players' action, "History may show that the right thing was done the wrong way, but the consequences are still uncertain. The season isn't lost, but, right now, the owners and players are."