The ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson putting a temporary end to the NFL lockout also was, by extension, a victory for the National Basketball Players Association in its ongoing labor negotiation with the NBA.
In legitimizing the NFL players' move to dissolve their union in the face of the owners' lockout, and granting an injunction to end the lockout pending appeal, Nelson dealt a legal blow to both sports leagues in their efforts to use a lockout as a weapon in collective bargaining.
"This is a victory for all professional sports unions," said Gabe Feldman, head of the Sports Law Center at Tulane University.
Top officials with the NBA and NBPA were reading every word of Nelson's opinion Monday, but the upshot for the NBA's labor negotiation was clear and resounding: If the NBPA elects to decertify -- in effect, dissolving the union and forfeiting the ability to collectively bargain contracts and work rules -- then Nelson's ruling will stand as federal precedent rendering moot the NBA's presumed tactic of imposing a lockout. The NBA's collective bargaining agreement expires at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.
Anticipating a lockout, the NBPA already has collected enough signatures to approve a vote for decertification, sources told CBSSports.com. Both sides in the NBA labor negotiation have been closely monitoring the NFL labor case, and top NBA negotiators for more than a year have been holding out hope that a decertification by the players would be ruled a "sham" by federal courts.
But Nelson, the U.S. District Court Judge in Minneapolis, recognized the NFL players' decertification and created a precedent that has conclusive implications for a similar anti-trust lawsuit in the NBA. The NFL quickly announced that it will seek an immediate stay of Nelson's ruling and appeal to a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will render final judgment.
Thus, the victory for NFL and NBA players "could be short-lived," Feldman said. "If the case stands up on appeal, it gives player unions a significant, though costly, weapon to use as leverage in labor negotiations."
Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBPA, told SI.com that the decision was "a great ruling for the players. But it's like the first round of a 15-round fight." Hunter expects a stay to be granted.
"What it does is put pressure on us to sit down and settle this," Hunter said. "We just want a fair deal."
If NBA owners and players are not able to reach a new collective bargaining agreement by July 1, owners could still impose a lockout. But Nelson's ruling, if upheld on appeal, would make the tactic a moot point. After decertifying, NBA players could file an anti-trust lawsuit in any federal jurisdiction where the NBA does business, but almost certainly would seek out the same court that ruled in the NFL players' favor.
If you're a lawyer or have too much time on your hands, you can read Nelson's 89-page opinion here.
Over the past week, NBA commissioner David Stern has substantially ratcheted down his rhetoric, saying at a Board of Governors meeting in New York and during a playoff media appearance in Philadelphia that a federal court case and potential National Labor Relations Board dispute "should be avoided." Stern said he and Hunter are in agreement that having their sport's future taken out of their hands and placed under the authority of the NLRB and/or federal courts would not be desirable.
"The NFL is sort of out there on display," Stern said last Thursday night in Philadelphia. "Here they are, they're profitable, but their future somehow is involved in some combination of court cases and NLRB proceedings. On behalf of the NBA -- and I believe, Billy, on behalf of the union -- (we) understand that's a route that should be avoided."
The NBA and NBPA now will wait potentially several weeks for the Eighth Circuit to rule on the NFL's appeal. In the meantime, Stern said after the most recent Board of Governors meeting in New York that owners intend to submit a second proposal to the players within the next two weeks. As of Monday, sources said that proposal has yet to be submitted.
The two sides in the NBA negotiation remain miles apart on key issues ranging from contract lengths and guarantees to a proposal by owners to scrap the soft-cap/luxury tax system and replace it with a hard cap with no exceptions. Owners have internally discussed a willingness to phase in their changes over several years, but that has yet to soften the players' opposition. Owners and players also continue to disagree strongly on the issue of how much money NBA teams are losing. Stern said recently that 22 of the league's 30 teams are expected to lose money this season, to the tune of $300 million.
NBA owners also seek to change the formula used to determine how much revenue is paid to the players as salary -- known as basketball-relate income, or BRI. Players currently receive 57 percent of BRI, net some expenses, but owners want to net out significantly more expenses before dividing up what's left between players and teams. In their counterproposal to the owners, the NBPA expressed a willingness to discuss a reduction in the players' share of BRI -- an offer that has been met with resistance from the owners, who say it costs too much to generate the revenue players receive.