As of Monday, Nov. 14 there is no more National Basketball Players Association, no more late-night negotiations and quite possibly no more NBA for a long time.
How we got here will be debated for years, but the long and the short of it is the NBA offered a proposal that offered either a 50-50 split of basketball related income or a 49-51 percent band, along with several contentious system issues and gave the players a chance to either accept it or face a far more restrictive proposal. The players chose option C: The nuclear option.
The players sent a letter to commissioner David Stern declaiming interest, which effectively dissolves the union and makes it a trade association. They can no longer negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the league. They chose this option over the more formal process of decertification, which involves taking a petition to the National Labor Relations Board before a full vote can take place, a procedure that generally lasts between 45-60 days and allows for continuing negotiation during the period.
The players had previously authorized the union to take this step and no vote was needed, although Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter said the 40-plus players present, including Rajon Rondo and Kobe Bryant, were unanimous in supporting the move. No formal vote on the NBA offer was held.
This is now in the hands of union attorney Jeffrey Kessler and David Boies, a renowned attorney who has taken on Microsoft and George W. Bush and who was also on the side of the NFL in their antitrust suit with the players. It’s presumed that they will file an antitrust suit against the NBA, although Boies threw some caution on that talk in a brief chat with reporters in New York.
Stern, as you might expect, was not happy with this development. He went on ESPN to call the move a negotiating tactic, which is the basis of an earlier suit the league filed with the NLRB in August. In a statement issued by the league, Stern claimed this was part of Kessler’s plan since February of 2010. “The players have been badly misled,” Stern said on ESPN. “We were very close, and the players decided to blow it up.”
How close they actually were is open for debate as it was Stern who repeatedly told the union that they were done negotiating and this was their final offer. Nevertheless, he added ominously, “We’re about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA.”
If a season is lost, that would likely mean the end of the Celtics as we know them. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Jermaine O’Neal would all become free agents and the last run of that era would have already taken place.
However, and it’s a big however, no one really knows for sure how this will play out. Stern himself stopped short of saying the season is over and as SI’s Zach Lowe pointed out, a lawsuit could be settled in weeks or even days and the union could reform to negotiate a new deal. The absolute drop-dead period for the 2011-12 season is probably January and that’s still a long way away. The last NBA lockout ended on Jan. 6, 1999.
But for now, chaos is the order of the day. In a letter sent to the players that was posted on USA Today’s website, Hunter wrote:
“With no labor union in place, it is our sincere hope that the NBA will immediately end its now illegal boycott and finally open the 2011-12 season. Individual teams are free to negotiate with free agents for your services. If the owners choose to continue their present course of action, it is our view that they subject themselves to significant antitrust liability.”
The repercussions are many, but again: No one really knows what will happen now.