This Tuesday, the NBA filed a lawsuit in federal court against the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). This marks the latest move in a battle the NBA and its players have been fighting throughout the summer. About a month ago, the NBA instituted a lockout of its players. This lockout remains in effect until the parties can agree on a new collective bargaining agreement. Now, the NBA has put teeth on its lockout by filing the suit.

Just a little earlier in the year, in the more-prosperous world of football, NFL players were deeply entrenched in their own battle with owners. In March, the National Football League Players Association (the NFL players’ union) dissolved as the players’ sole bargaining entity in order to allow NFL players to file an antitrust lawsuit against the owners. The NFL responded by commencing a lockout of NFL players.

The NBA’s suit attempts to prevent the NBPA from attempting what the NFL players did. The federal suit it filed seeks declaratory judgment that its lockout does not violate antitrust laws. According to the NBA, the NBPA has been threatening to follow in the NFL players’ footsteps and decertify so that NBA players can file antitrust suits. The NBA further alleges that such threats have no legal basis; rather, the threats merely serve as bargaining chips to pressure the NBA into agreeing to the Association’s terms.

Unlike the NFL, though, the NBA is not making money. The NFL’s negotiations centered on how to divvy up the profits; the NBA’s negotiations center on how to turn the enterprise into a profitable one. Nevertheless, this “double dribble” of threatened union decertification, particularly when used as a bargaining tactic, underscores the undeniable strength of labor unions in general, and with regard to professional sports in particular. What’s next? This Blackhawks fan can only hope that hockey, at least, has been there, done that.

– Andrea Verney

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