NEW YORK – The NBA lockout appears set to squash the 2011-12 season.
The Players Association announced Monday it had voted to reject the owners' final proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement and take the dispute to court.
The union's executive director Billy Hunter said the players had approved disbanding the union in order to file an antitrust lawsuit. After a three-hour meeting that included more than 50 players, the union sent a disclaimer of interest to the NBA to announce the move.
The disclaimer of interest has the same effect as decertification, but is more immediate and removes the union from the negotiations.
"This is where it stops for us as a union," declared union president Derek Fisher. "We have unanimously decided this deal doesn't work for the players."
The players hired top antitrust attorney David Boies to help with the lawsuit, which it plans to file within 48 hours. If the antitrust lawsuit succeeds, the damages awarded to the players would automatically be tripled.
NBA commissioner David Stern had said the latest proposal from the owners was the final offer, and if the players did not accept it, a far worse proposal would follow.
"By this irresponsible action at this late date, Billy Hunter has decided to put the season in jeopardy and deprive his players of an enormous payday," Stern said on ESPN. He called the union's action a "negotiating tactic" and said it was a "tragedy" that the season will probably be lost.
Stern said the dispute looks to be headed for "years of litigation," accusing the union of being "hell bent on self-destruction." He said some owners believed the final offer was too "player-friendly," but he believed he would have been able to win their approval if the players had accepted.
Some players expressed aggravation that the union had waited until now to pursue a lengthy legal battle.
"This is why I said we should have done this in July [because] at least the process would have been underway... even over! Now possibly #NOSEASON," tweeted New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams, who is playing in Turkey until the lockout is resolved.
The strategy is the same one the NFL players pursued earlier this year, though the NFL players filed the antitrust lawsuit immediately after the owners declared the lockout. The NBA and the union have been negotiating since the lockout was declared July 1.
An agreement in the NFL dispute was reached in late July with the players' lawsuit hung up in federal court for more than four months.