Move comes just hours prior to recommendationLocked out NBA players withdrew their complaint before the National Labor Relations Board Friday, just hours before the board's regional director was to issue his recommendation.

The move was a clear victory for the owners, who were accused of an unfair labor practice by imposing a lockout before the sides had bargained to an impasse."I assume they came to the recognition that this was a loser," deputy commissioner Russ Granik said. "This is obviously a defeat for the union strategy of litigation instead of negotiation.

"The players must now recognize that the NBA lockout is completely lawful, and the only way it will end is when the parties sit down and reach a deal that is fair to both sides."

The union filed its complaint last month, about three weeks after the lockout commenced, charging the owners with unilaterally imposing changes in conditions of employment.

NLRB regional director Daniel Silverman had the choice of dismissing the union's charge, issuing a complaint against the league or recommending an injunction be sought restoring the work rules that expired along with the old collective bargaining agreement.

"This just demonstrates what we've been saying - that this is a perfectly legal lockout, that we have bargained in good faith and you don't have to lock out only when games are in place," Granik said.

Silverman, who received the league's official response Monday and had planned to announce his findings at 4 p.m. today, issued a one-paragraph statement confirming the withdrawal. He referred all questions to the union.

"It was determined that the players would not be able to obtain relief as swiftly as would be necessary to justify the effort and expense of litigation," union attorney Peter Stergios said in a news release. "It was determined that the NBPA's resources would be more effectively utilized in other forums at this time."

The sides have not scheduled any resumption of formal negotiations, which broke off last Thursday after the owners received the players' latest proposal.

The union still has a grievance pending before arbitrator John Feerick, who has been asked to determine whether players with guaranteed contracts should be paid during the lockout.

The union is due to file its legal briefs with Feerick on Friday, and the league's response is due a week later. Feerick has scheduled the hearings for Aug. 24-25.