Hard courts quiet as lockout action moves into legal arena

Published November 02, 2011

| Reuters

(Reuters) - A day that would normally be filled with opening night highlights and lively basketball banter was replaced by dreary legal wrangling on Wednesday, as the National Basketball Association (NBA) labor dispute dragged on into the regular season.

But if there was disappointment among NBA fan base they chose not to show it.

There were no noisy protests, no vigils or pleas for players to return. Just dismissive silence and dark arenas.

While the hard courts remained quiet, there was action in the legal arena on Wednesday as the owners and players took their dispute to the U.S. District Court in New York where the league has filed a lawsuit attempting to block the union from decertifying and pursuing an anti-trust litigation -- a tactic the National Football League players association used earlier this year to great effect during their negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The league and union are also awaiting a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board on complaints from both that neither side have bargained in good faith.

The legal moves come amid reports of a growing rift within the NBA players association around hawkish executive director Billy Hunter and association president Derek Fisher.

Cracks have also begun to show in the ownership ranks, Miami Heat owner Micky Arison fined $500,000 on Monday for hinting at a division on Twitter.

The latest round of talks broke off on Friday with Hunter exiting the marathon bargaining session unwilling to agree on a 50-50 division of basketball-related income.

The players had offered to reduce their share from 57 to 53 percent, and lowered that to 52.5 percent last week and said they could drop to 52 but that was not enough for the owners who had formally proposed a 50-50 split.

With the feuding sides at a standoff, the damage linked to the lockout has begun to take a toll.

Bars, restaurants and other business that feed off the NBA felt the first real tremors of the lockout on Tuesday as fans stayed away and business dipped.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported the area around the ACC, home Mavericks, was a virtual ghost town, the House of Blues, a roaring hot spot on game nights had eight employees on duty attending to just six customers.

"Our restaurant holds 230 people, and there's six people in there right now," said Chris Spinks, the marketing manager of House Of Blues Dallas told the Star Telegram. "Percentage wise, 95 percent of our business isn't in here right now."

(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Julian Linden)

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