Commissioner Stern: NBA headed toward “nuclear winter”

If you’re a basketball fan or if your employment status and or small business depend on the NBA, especially these days when unemployment is on the rise in the midst of an economic crisis, you’re probably not a happy camper.

The NBA’s more than four-month long labor dispute took a turn for the worse this week after the players’ union disbanded in an effort to file antitrust lawsuits against league owners in federal court. The players are seeking monetary damages for lost wages, which would be tripled under antitrust law, due to what they contend is an illegal lockout.

The players say they made several economic concessions and had no choice but to disband the union and seek legal redress. The league locked out the players on July 1.

“We’ve come to the conclusion today that the process has not worked for us,” said Derek Fisher, the union’s president on Monday Nov. 14, to reporters. “We’ve continued to want to get back to work, and negotiate a fair deal. But that process has broken down.”

The league’s latest proposal, which was rejected by the players, called for a reduced 72-game season to start Dec. 15. Commissioner David Stern had issued an ultimatum for the players to accept a deal that would include a 50-50 split of revenues, which the players had accepted. But it also included restrictions on free agency and player payrolls, which the players oppose. The players received 57 percent of the leagues revenue in the previous contract.

Stern urged the union to accept the offer or it would be replaced with an inferior one based on a 47 percent share for the players and a hard salary cap.

Stern warned the league was done negotiating.

After the union rejected the offer Stern darkly said, “We’re about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA,” during an ESPN interview.

Meanwhile, NBA fans on Facebook are upset and disappointed.

“Both sides are just being greedy,” said Maria, adding, “they are forgetting they are pushing away their fan base, the people whose dollars actually support the dollars they are fighting over.”

Another Facebook user, Javier agreed. “If they don’t care about putting a product out there for us as fans to see, then screw them, I’ll watch college athletes compete. Tell you this, the longer they stay out, the longer it will take to get me back as a fan.”

But not everyone feels the same way.

For example, A.B. Wilkinson wrote, “Yes, they are paid very well, but these athletes are extremely talented and have devoted their whole lives to the game. The players bring in much more money for the sport overall and comparatively receives a small percentage of the millions they bring in.”

On Nov. 15, the players hit the league with separate antitrust complaints in Minnesota and the Northern District of California. The NBA filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against the union last August, in New York, accusing union officials of threatening to decertify as a “negotiating tactic.” The suits by the players are in courts considered friendly to the players whereas the suit by the owners is in a court friendly toward them. This will require another legal fight, to decide where the lawsuit should be heard. Eventually, all the lawsuits will have to be combined, with each side arguing to have the case heard in the jurisdiction it favors.

The resolution of the lawsuit could take months or years and could wipe out more than one season. But the immediate goal for the players is to push the owners back to the bargaining table and salvage some part of the 2011-12 season. For any new collective bargaining agreement to be approved by the players, the union would have to be reconstituted.

The NBA season usually runs from November through June. In 1999, the league staged a 50-game season after a 191-day lockout, with a labor agreement finally reached Jan. 6.

Photo: Surrounded by NBA basketball players, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association Billy Hunter, center, and the union’s president Derek Fisher, second from left, speak to the media during a news conference after a meeting of the players’ union in New York, Nov. 14. The players rejected the league’s latest offer and have begun the process to disband the union. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)



Pepe Lozano
Pepe Lozano

Chicagoan Pepe Lozano was a staff writer with the People's World through 2014. He comes from an activist family and has lived on the city's southwest side in a predominantly Mexican-American community his whole life. Lozano now works as a union organizer.