NEW YORK — Locked-out NBA players including Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant filed class-action antitrust lawsuits against the league on Tuesday in at least two states, moving pro basketball's labor dispute from the negotiating table to federal court.
Attorney David Boies, who represented the NFL during that sport's work stoppage and now has been brought aboard by basketball's players, said the NBA lockout violates antitrust laws by refusing to allow players to work.
Boies also said NBA Commissioner David Stern's ultimatum to the now-disbanded union to accept the owners' last economic model or face a harsher proposal "turned out to be a mistake" that strengthens the players' case because it proves that the collective bargaining process had ended.
"If you're in a poker game, and you run a bluff, and the bluff works, you're a hero. If someone calls your bluff, you lose. I think the owners overplayed their hand," Boies said at the players' association headquarters. "They did a terrific job of taking a very hard line and pushing the players to make concession after concession after concession, but greed is not only a terrible thing — it's a dangerous thing."
Dangerous enough to cost the league billions of dollars in damages if players win.
"We haven't seen Mr. Boies complaint yet but it's a shame that the players have chosen to litigate instead of negotiate," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said in a statement. "They warned us from the early days of these negotiations that they would sue us if we didn't satisfy them at the bargaining table, and they appear to have followed through on their threats."
Even so, Boise said he hopes it won't be necessary to go to trial.
Anthony and Chauncey Billups of the Knicks, NBA scoring leader Durant, rookie Kawhi Leonard and Grizzlies forward Leon Powe were listed as plaintiffs in the complaint that was filed in the Northern District of California against the NBA and the owners of its 30 teams. That case has been assigned for now to U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu in Oakland, Calif.
Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver, Pistons guard Ben Gordon, free agent forward Caron Butler and Derrick Williams — the second overall draft pick by Minnesota in June who has yet to sign a rookie contract because of the lockout — were listed as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the league and owners in Minneapolis, where NFL players had some level of success in a similar court proceeding this summer.
"Nobody can tell you how long it's going to take. We all know it's possible to delay lawsuits for a while, but I think it is in everybody's interest to try to resolve this promptly," Boies said. "The longer it goes on, the greater the damages that the teams will face, the greater the damages that the players will suffer, and perhaps most important of all, the longer basketball fans will be deprived of basketball. So we hope that this will move quickly."
He said he believes NBA players have a stronger case than NFL players did.
Boies said that NFL players walked out on the bargaining process before it was technically over and brought litigation. He said NBA players had run out of options beyond seeking legal relief.
"Here you had an ultimatum from the owners that made absolutely clear that the collective bargaining process was over," he said, adding that Stern's threat is quoted in the lawsuit. "That's not collective bargaining, and so you have a very distinct set of facts here."
Tuesday marked the 138th day of the lockout. Already games through Dec. 15 have been canceled — a total of 324 or 26 percent of the season.
The NBA already has filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in New York seeking to prove the lockout is legal and likely would push for cases to be moved there to gain the legal home court.
The Minnesota district court has been favorable to the NFLPA during litigation dating to the 1980s. The federal court in San Francisco is under the jurisdiction of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the most liberal of the 13 circuit courts. Sixteen of the 25 active judges were appointed by Democratic presidents, and the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit's Stephen Reinhardt three times in just the last term.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in Minneapolis issued a preliminary injunction ending NFL lockout on April 25, but her decision was overturned by the more conservative 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
Boies said there might be other, similar cases to those filed on behalf of NBA players in California and Minnesota. The ideal scenario, he said, would be to bring them all together in the Northern District of California.
The plaintiffs represent various types of players affected by lockout — those under contract, free agents and rookies.
They argue in the Minnesota filing that the lockout "constitutes an illegal group boycott, price-fixing agreement, and
or restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Act" and that the owners' final offer for a new CBA would have "wiped out the competitive market for most NBA players."
Boies said players will not seek a preliminary injunction to lift the lockout. Because the lockout "arguably grew out of prior collective bargaining discussions," Boies said he believes it would be very difficult to get a court to immediately halt the lockout and such a path would delay the case.