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NBA talks stall; parties head to court

Players Associatipresident Derek Fisher (left) unipresident Billy Hunter are talking tough. | Seth Wenig~AP

Players Association president Derek Fisher (left) and union president Billy Hunter are talking tough. | Seth Wenig~AP

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Updated: December 16, 2011 8:19AM

The idea of a nuclear winter is nothing more than scientific theory. An estimation of what would happen to our climate in the wake of devastation caused by a nuclear war or a natural catastrophe of epic proportions.

The darkness that would ensue.

So it was apropos that NBA commissioner David Stern used that term in a television interview on Monday, considering the black cloud that seems to be engulfing the rest of the 2011-12 NBA season.

“We’re about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA,’’ Stern said, pulling no punches on the reality that now faces the Association.

And who wins no longer seems to even matter at this point.

Unable to agree with the latest proposal offered by ownership, the union representing the players dissolved, paving the way for both sides to head to court. Not the kind of court with rims, nets and Luva-bulls, but the one with lawyers and legal jargon.

In a unanimous show-of-hands vote by as many as 50 players, the union then sent a disclaimer of interest letter to the commissioner, ending the National Basketball Players Association’s role as the collective bargaining agent for the players, instead handing that power to the star attorney tag- team of Jeffrey Kessler and David Boies. Kessler and Boies will now sue the NBA, alleging antitrust violations.

“We’ve negotiated in good faith for over two years,” said Billy Hunter, who was the union executive director before becoming the executive director of the newly created National Basketball Players Trade Association. “The players just felt that they’ve given enough.’’

I’ve been on the side of the players throughout the lockout, but decertification of the players union at this point is a bridge that should have been crossed this summer by the union. Now it reeks of a strong minority of the players looking out for their best interest. Or more like their agents pushing the buttons, considering the deal that was walked away from on Monday was definitely unfriendly to agents.

But that didn’t mean it wasn’t fair. Or as fair as the owners were going to make it.

The proposals that were being thrown out by the owners throughout the summer and into September were without question a back-of-the-hand slap to the face of the players. This latest proposal, however? Walking away from that is a bad move.

Under the old deal the players were guaranteed 57 percent of basketball-related income. The latest proposal had the owners finally agreeing on a 50-50 split.

What seemed to be the stumbling block, however, was the players — or their agents — seeing too many restrictions on the spending for large-market teams, hurting the free-agent spending that would go on each year.

But the owners had already dropped some of their earlier demands made this summer: a hard salary cap, non-guaranteed contracts like the NFL uses and salary rollbacks.

Negotiating in good faith by the owners just went out the window because of Monday’s decision by the players, with the league already filing a preemptive lawsuit seeking to prove the lockout is legal. And it contends that without the union that collectively bargained them, the players’ guaranteed contracts could legally be voided.

Stern also warned that with the latest deal now gone, the next proposal will be worse, including 53 percent of the BRI going to owners and a flex cap with a hard ceiling.

In other words, a whole bunch of legal terminology for a fan base that was already dwindling in numbers from when the lockout started 138 days ago and counting.

So was Stern’s analogy of a “nuclear winter’’ a bit over the top? Maybe.

But there is no question that the NBA is now headed for its darkest days.

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