Mike Monroe: League putting on a full-court press

The lawsuit the NBA filed against the National Basketball Players Association on Tuesday was a preemptive tactic.

The league doesn’t want its relationship with the players litigated in federal court, but if the impasse ends up in a courtroom, they want a judicial home-court advantage.

The federal court where the league filed its suit, the Southern District Court of New York, is believed to be management-friendly, just as the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis was believed to be when the NFL appealed a ruling that had declared its lockout illegal.

The 8th Circuit Court threw out the order of a U.S. District judge in Minnesota, and the pro football lockout ultimately was settled in face-to-face negotiations between the league and the players union, which acted as a trade association after decertifying.

If the basketball lockout requires a court ruling, the union will have to fight that battle in the league’s hand-picked venue.

It’s decertification — often called the players union’s “nuclear option” — that the league seeks to circumvent by filing both its lawsuit and a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that charges the union with unfair labor practices.

The NLRB complaint formalized what commissioner David Stern hinted to reporters at the conclusion of Monday’s formal negotiating session in midtown Manhattan — that the union isn’t bargaining in good faith.

The league offers as proof the contention that the union has made “unlawful threats to commence a sham ‘decertification’ and an antitrust lawsuit challenging the NBA’s lockout.”

Then it filed a lawsuit of its own.

According to an NBA press release, the lawsuit “seeks to establish, among other things, that the NBA’s lockout does not violate federal antitrust laws and that if the players association’s ‘decertification’ were found to be lawful, all existing player contracts would become void and unenforceable.”

Don’t doubt for a nanosecond that the league wants every player to pause and consider that his contract could be declared “void and unenforceable” if the union were to choose decertification and the league prevails in court.

If the NBA’s actions intend to get the parties back to serious negotiations, the effect put another roadblock in the path to real progress.

Union executive director Billy Hunter’s response spared few words. In a press release, he called the league’s lawsuit “just another example of bad faith bargaining” and said the claims are “totally without merit.”

He insists the union has made no move to decertify, but Stern knows a group of powerful agents met last week with Hunter and advocated such a strategy. Apparently that was enough. Now the legal fees add up while 114 laid-off NBA employees fill out unemployment forms and locked out players explore overseas options that aren’t going to provide more than a few dozen jobs.

Meanwhile, Stern put himself in the running for an Academy Award on Monday afternoon when he conjured his poor pitiful-me persona during a session with reporters after a formal bargaining session produced nothing but soundbites.

Barely audible and looking glummer than glum, Stern told reporters how discouraged he was because the league had made several offers “… but we don’t feel we’ve gotten significant movement back from the players.”

Maybe Stern was down because he can see the entire 2011-12 season is in danger of cancellation. The commissioner has promised to take no salary as long as the lockout lasts, and now there are reports his pay is stratospheric. Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski, citing an unidentified owner, claims most owners don’t even know how much they pay Stern but that some believe it is between $20-$23 million.

If you believed you were about to miss out on $20 million, you’d be downcast, too, even if you were set for life, as Stern no doubt is after making at least $8 million a year for more than a decade.


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