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After months of negotiation, N.B.A. players have decided to take their concerns to court. Following Thursday’s final attempt at negotiation, locked out players filed suit demanding an end to an alleged illegal boycott of the work force. The suit seeks damages for what the players claim to be “irreparable harm” in preventing them from playing in their very short N.B.A. careers. If granted, damages could add up to the $2 billion players would have made in the 2011-2012 season, which would be tripled under antitrust law. Though the lawsuit is unlikely to resolve for years, the filing is a last-ditch effort by players to pull team owners back to negotiation in order to salvage the 2011 season.
Lawyer David Boies, who successfully represented the N.F.L. during that sport’s work stoppage, made a statement at the headquarters of the National Basketball Players Association: “I hope it is not necessary to litigate all the way. I hope at some point the N.B.A. and the teams will have enough concern for basketball fans that they will resolve these issues and allow the players to start playing.” Ideally for the players the lawsuit will reinvigorate recently failed negotiations, as such lawsuits did for the N.F.L. last spring. Tuesday marked the first missed paycheck period for the players who remain eager to begin the season. The N.B.A. has made its position clear though, and claims that it will not budge from its offer this past week. Commissioner David Stern insisted that players accept the league’s proposal, or have it replaced with a significantly less favorable one. Boies claims that this ultimatum is what has driven players to court, as they saw little other recourse.
The lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of California, thought to be a favorable jurisdiction for players. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are players of varied experience who are thought to represent a wide range of classes within the association. Another lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in Minnesota, also a friendly jurisdiction for the antitrust claims. The Minnesota suit demands a permanent injunction and monetary damages. The plaintiffs of the California lawsuit are not seeking an injunction, which Boies claims is an unlikely outcome that would only delay the matter. With the break down of negotiations, it is thought that more lawsuits will follow these initial two. The N.B.A. had already sued players in August in the Southern District of New York, which is viewed as more favorable to owners. Ultimately the cases will be combined, though there will likely be conflict over which jurisdiction will decide the matter.
In order to succeed in an antitrust lawsuit, the players must demonstrate harm to competition, not merely competitors. The actions of the N.B.A. will have to be shown as causing the type of harm antitrust laws are meant to detect. Even if players were to succeed on such a claim, they must show actual financial harm in order to receive damages. Though similar lawsuits were successful in resolving a lockout for the N.F.L, it is unclear whether the N.B.A. will be responsive to these litigious acts.
– Virginia Maynard Yetter
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