Unwilling to accept the NBA's latest contract offer and fearful the negotiating process had reached a dead end, the players' association moved Monday to disband its union, putting the 2011-12 season in jeopardy.
"The players just felt that they had given enough, that the NBA was not willing or prepared to continue to negotiate," said union Executive Director Billy Hunter during a news conference at a New York City hotel. "Things were not going to get better."
Superstars Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks and Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets were among the more than 40 players in attendance, crowding behind Hunter and union president Derek Fisher as they made the announcement.
By disbanding, the National Basketball Players Association becomes a trade association, capable of representing the players in some matters, but for the purposes of bargaining for a new contract the players are now considered individuals.
The move to disband the union paves the way for an antitrust suit against the league as a way of ending the lockout. Hunter told reporters a lawsuit would be filed in the new few days. Jeffrey Kessler, the union's lead negotiator, will be joined by David Boies, a renowned antitrust attorney.
NBA Commissioner David Stern attacked the decision to disband the union, saying during an interview with ESPN, "It looks like the 2011-12 season is really in jeopardy. It's just a big charade. To do it now, the union is ratcheting up, I guess, to see if they can scare the NBA owners or something."
Stern went on to say the league was entering a "nuclear winter."
At the core of the dispute between the league and its players is the best way to break up the profits, or what is known as basketball- related income (BRI). Under the previous agreement, the players received 57percent of BRI with the owners getting the rest.
The owners initially hoped to reverse the figures, keeping 57 percent for themselves, because they said the old system contributed to roughly $300 million in losses for the league's 30teams last season. In their most recent offer, the owners proposed a 50-50 split of revenues and the players agreed.
However, there were a number of other system issues that troubled the players, who rejected the offer. Stern gave the players until Monday to take the offer or leave it. The players, in a vote of team representatives, turned it down.
The players can continue to talk with the owners about a new deal while their lawsuit is pending, and it's possible an agreement can be hammered out.
The players have been locked out since July 1. The league said last week that a 72-game season could start Dec. 15 if the union agreed to its most recent proposal by the end of this week.