After the NBA's lobbing of lawsuits on Tuesday, the rules of this game are clear now for the players' association, and neither option is particularly appealing: Armageddon or arm-wrestling.
The decimation could come with decertification. The NBA filed an unfair labor practice charge and a federal lawsuit against the NBPA, and if the players decide to disband as a precursor to the lawsuits, much -- if not all -- of the 2011-12 season would be lost. But the league's preemptive strike could force both sides back to the bargaining table for sessions far more meaningful and productive than the one that took place on Monday.
The preview to the NBA's legal actions came Monday, in the lobby of the Omni hotel in New York, where the first official negotiation since the lockout began was followed by commissioner David Stern's offering the accusations his league would make a day later. "I don't feel optimistic about the players' willingness to engage in a serious way," Stern said. Translation: Be sure to check your e-mail inbox tomorrow for more on this matter.
When the release finally came, it was made clear that the NBA's federal lawsuit would move to make all existing contracts "void and unenforceable" if the union opted to decertify.
Yet, while increased legality is never a good thing in such matters, these are still rubber bullets being fired here. And with some of the league's most prominent agents continuing to pressure union chief Billy Hunter into decertifying, this not-so-subtle threat just might be enough to quiet that crowd and force both sides into the kind of prolonged discussions that are so badly needed.
It all depends on the NBPA's reaction to these events, of course, but union president Derek Fisher might have offered a hint of what's next while speaking after Monday's meeting. According to
The players responded to the NBA's move nearly four hours after it was released with the following statement:
"The litigation tactics of the NBA today are just another example of their bad faith bargaining and we will seek the complete dismissal of the actions as they are totally without merit. The NBA Players Association has not made any decision to disclaim its role as the collective bargaining representative of the players and has been engaged in good faith bargaining with the NBA for over two years. We urge the NBA to engage with us at the bargaining table and to use more productively the short time we have left before the 2011-12 season is seriously jeopardized."
Both sides have agreed to hold further meetings in the next couple of weeks, and this observer believes it's time to add a mediator into this equation before doing so. The money matters clearly aren't adding up, and the endless posturing and lack of trust from both sides has merely wasted time that they simply don't have.
The union is still awaiting a decision on its own NLRB claim, having already asserted that the NBA isn't bargaining in good faith. But don't be surprised if Fisher and Hunter try to avoid any further use of the court system, as there is a belief (or perhaps a sliver of hope) within the union that the owners aren't as galvanized as advertised.
If that's the case, if large-market owners like New York's James Dolan or the Los Angeles Lakers' Jerry Buss are poised to push back against an extended lockout once their losses start piling up, the players could have their chance to avoid being obliterated when it comes to the state of the next collective bargaining agreement. On that front, anyone who pays attention to the always-intentional p.r. game might have noticed a change in Monday's meeting in comparison to the last session.
On June 30, it was a small-market owner, San Antonio's Peter Holt, and Dolan representing their constituents, the two of them seeming to send the strong message of league-wide unity. Yet it was Holt and Minnesota's Glen Taylor taking part on Monday, with some observers left to wonder whether that was a sign of possible concessions or an indication that the small-market owners have been given free rein to lead this charge.
But if the owners are prepared to lose the entire season and possibly more, then the tactic taken by the players won't matter much in the end anyway. They'll be stuck with one of two extremes in this game they'll have a hard time winning. Let the arm-wrestling commence.