Canceled season is looming closer

NEW YORK — Faced with a deal it could not accept and a negotiating process that had reached a dead end, the National Basketball Players Association elected to disband Monday afternoon, thrusting the NBA into chaos.

The prospect of reviving the 2011-12 season now rests with the courts.

Billy Hunter, executive director of the now-defunct NBPA, made the announcement just before 1 p.m. CST, after a four-hour meeting of union officials and player representatives from all 30 teams.

A letter informing the NBA of the union’s decision was sent before Hunter took the podium.

“The players just felt that they had given enough, that the NBA was not willing or prepared to continue to negotiate,” Hunter said, with more than 40 players packed behind him in a small hotel conference room. “Things were not going to get better.”

The union’s decision comes four days after commissioner David Stern issued an ultimatum to the union to accept the league’s current proposal or have it replaced with an inferior deal.

Stern reiterated over the weekend that the NBA was done negotiating.

Few teams in the NBA have more to lose from cancellation of the season than the Spurs.

Coming off a 61-win season that was followed by a shocking first-round playoff loss to the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, they understand that the glory days of an aging roster are dwindling.

Two-time Most Valuable Player Tim Duncan, now 35, is in the final season of his contract. Though he has stated his intent to play as long as he remains a significant contributor, losing the season could affect his thinking.

All-Star guard Manu Ginobili, 34, is under contract for only two more seasons. He has acknowledged that retirement will be an option after 2012-13.

The club hoped a shortened NBA season might convince 36-year-old forward-center Antonio McDyess to put off his announced retirement plans.

There is little chance he would return for a season in which he would turn 38.

On several occasions during the lockout, Stern has expressed regret about the effect it has had on players like Duncan. He reiterated the sentiment Monday, even as he criticized the union’s decision to disclaim interest.

“Players whose last year was this season will have their careers potentially end on this basis,” he said, “and it’s just a negotiating tactic, and it’s all that it is.”

In disbanding, the NBPA will now become a trade association. It will represent the players’ interests, but for the purposes of bargaining, the players are now considered individuals.

The decision to end the union effectively renders moot a separate effort by agents and players to force decertification of the union. An antitrust lawyer representing that group was set to deliver more than 200 player signatures to the National Labor Relations Board to start the clock on that process. Decertifying — effectively overthrowing union leadership from the outside — would have taken at least six weeks and would have required a majority vote by the full membership.

By disclaiming interest, the union ceases operations, opening the door to an immediate antitrust lawsuit.

The NBA is expected to challenge the disclaimer as a sham that was perpetuated only to create leverage at the bargaining table. The league made that accusation in August, when it filed a pre-emptive lawsuit accusing union leaders of threatening to disclaim as a negotiating tactic.

Stern hammered that point again in a statement issued Monday afternoon.

“At a bargaining session in February 2010, Jeffrey Kessler, counsel for the union, threatened that the players would abandon the collective bargaining process and start an antitrust lawsuit against our teams if they did not get a bargaining resolution that was acceptable to them,” Stern said.

In an interview with ESPN, Stern said the NBA was entering a “nuclear winter.”

He also said the league’s latest offer was not an ultimatum but a revised proposal.

“When you negotiate for 21/2 years and finally get to where the parties are … that’s not an ultimatum. That’s a proposal that’s ready to be voted up or down,” Stern said. “They seem hell-bent on self-destruction, and it’s very sad.

“There will ultimately be a new collective bargaining agreement,” Stern said in his statement, “but the 2011-12 season is now in jeopardy.”

Without a union, the players are now free to sue the NBA under antitrust laws and challenge the legality of the lockout. Hunter said a lawsuit would be filed within two days.

Staff Writer Mike Monroe and the New York Times contributed to this report.

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