Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver was watching back in March, when pro football players such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees announced they were disbanding their union and suing the NFL under antitrust law.
"We'll see how the next steps go," Tolliver said at the time. "Hopefully we'll learn from them."
Well, now it's time to find out what Tolliver and his peers picked up. He's one of a handful of basketball players, including All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, who filed class-action antitrust complaints against the NBA in federal court during the past week.
That could lead to a dragged-out legal process or — as happened with the NFL's labor dispute — wind up bringing the sides back to the negotiating table.
"We've seen every twist and turn, and I imagine we'll see many more. Hopefully a settlement can be reached, relatively quickly, and the (NBA) season can be saved," said Jeffrey Kessler, outside counsel for both the NFL and NBA players' associations. "That would be the best result for everyone, to have a litigation settlement now."
The NBA's lockout came swiftly on the heels of the NFL's, already has lasted longer, and there's one significant difference: Football's labor dispute resulted in the loss of only a single exhibition game, while the NBA is on its way down the path toward a shortened regular season — if one is played at all.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke repeatedly about getting a deal done and keeping the season intact. When the most recent round of NBA talks broke off Monday, Commissioner David Stern spoke about a "nuclear winter" and said it appeared "the 2011-12 season is really in jeopardy." Tuesday was the first time players missed out on a twice-a-month paycheck because of the lockout; people who work at an NBA arena or a nearby bar or restaurant already began feeling lighter in their pockets last month, when preseason games began getting wiped out.
"This lockout doesn't just hurt players. It hurts workers. It hurts cities. It hurts people who really need the income provided by the NBA," Kessler said. "But what people have to keep in mind is that the players don't want this lockout."
For the time being, the only chance to see All-Stars such as LeBron James or Dwight Howard in action is to catch one of the player-organized games for charity. Unless, that is, some of them follow through on opportunities to play overseas: Kobe Bryant was in contact with a team in Italy; Dwyane Wade authorized his agent to listen to viable offers.
NFL players didn't have that international option, of course.
Both leagues' labor problems began, at their heart, as arguments over how to divide billions of dollars in revenues — about $9 billion for the NFL, $4 billion for the NBA — but also over how to change the rules governing player contracts and free agency. Both featured acrimonious dialogue in public. Both bothered fans who couldn't understand why it was so hard to find common ground.
"The NFL owners and players had time to let the legal battle play out," said Gabe Feldman, director of the Sports Law program at Tulane. "The NBA owners and players don't. This has to be a quick legal strike and, unfortunately in our litigation system, there aren't many opportunities to get a quick legal strike."
The two disputes' timelines:
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