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NBA Players’ Union Asks Judge to Throw Out League’s Lawsuit

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Nov. 2 (Bloomberg) -- The union representing National Basketball Association players asked a judge to dismiss a league lawsuit seeking to have a court declare that its player lockout doesn’t violate antitrust law.

The NBA sued the National Basketball Players Association in August, claiming the union was threatening to use antitrust litigation to extract better terms in contract talks.

At a hearing in Manhattan federal court today, a lawyer for the union asked a judge to throw the case out, claiming there’s no legal conflict for him to determine at this stage.

“They’re asking you to do something unprecedented and inappropriate, and you should respectfully decline,” Jeffrey Kessler told U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe.

The hearing came a day after the NBA season was scheduled to begin. NBA Commissioner David Stern last week announced that a breakdown in negotiations between the two sides had forced the league to cancel all of the games scheduled for November. The move means the NBA will have a shortened season for only the second time in its 66-year history.

The league and the players’ union started mediated talks on Oct. 18 to end the lockout.

Jeffrey Mishkin, a lawyer for the NBA, defended the league’s request for a declaration from the court.

‘Concrete Dispute’

“There is a real, live, concrete dispute here that’s not hypothetical,” he told Gardephe.

The judge called some of the league’s allegations “very thin.”

The NBA claims in its suit that the union has threatened on more than two dozen occasions to give up its role as the exclusive bargaining representative of league players.

A so-called decertification can pave the way for antitrust claims against the league, such as those filed by National Football League players after their labor talks broke down in March.

“It’s like taking a loaded gun and putting it on the table,” Mishkin argued, referring to the union’s actions.

“If they’re putting a gun on the table, it’s not clear they have any bullets in it,” Gardephe answered.

The two sides are discussing how to split money from a league that had about $4.3 billion in revenue last season. Stern has said the league’s 30 teams collectively lost at least $300 million in each of the past three seasons.

The case is National Basketball Association v. National Basketball Players Association, 11-cv-05369, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporters on this story: Bob Van Voris in New York at rvanvoris@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net