NBA players file anti-trust lawsuit

Derek Fisher, president of the National Basketball Players Association speaks to the media after a press conference after the NBPA met to discuss the current CBA offer at Westin Times Square on Nov. 14, 2011 in New York City.

Kai Ryssdal: Here's what we know about the 2011-2012 basketball season in this country: not a darn thing -- other than it sure looks like we're a long ways away from tipoff.

Last night in a not-unexpected move, the players filed suit against the league, claiming anti-trust violations.

David Boies is the players' lawyer. He's got some anti-trust experience on his resume: He helped the Justice Department prosecute Microsoft, and he defended the National Football League when its players sued. Mr. Boies, good to have you with us.

David Boies: Good to be here.

Ryssdal: What was it that drove the players to file this lawsuit last night?

Boies: It was a recognition that the collective bargaining process had broken down and that the only alternative that they had was really to try to file a lawsuit to end the boycott, so that people could start playing basketball again. The owners had made clear that they were not prepared to end the boycott even though the players had ended the union bargaining after several months.

Ryssdal: What -- I guess the legal term is "relief" -- relief are you looking for?

Boies: First, we're looking for damages. As you may know under the anti-trust laws, they provide that if anyone is injured as a result of an anti-trust violation -- and a group boycott is clearly an anti-trust violation -- they're entitled to damages.

Ryssdal: And when you say "damages," just to be clear, you want money right? The players want money.

Boies: Absolutely, absolutely. Damages really translate into money.

Ryssdal: All right, well, along that line then, here comes the question that comes up in every major sports work-stoppage story: How do you convince fans and everybody else who pays $60 to go see the Knicks in Madison Square Garden -- that is, this isn't just millionaires fighting billionaires?

Boies: Well I think it is, to a large extent, millionaires fighting billionaires. I think that one of the things that is unfortunate is that the owners -- the billionaires in your question -- have locked out the players and have deprived the fans of basketball while this dispute goes on. It would be possible -- and is often the case -- that parties can have a dispute about employment and wages and the like, but continue to have the employment go on while that dispute is trying to be resolved.

Ryssdal: Do negotiations continue? Are the players still talking to the owners even though the lawsuit's in the courts?

Boies: There are no negotiations going on right now. Usually after a lawsuit is filed, it takes a little while for people to settle down and get into a negotiating mode. That does usually happen. I think a resolution of this lawsuit is in everybody's interests; I think it's in the players' interests, it's in the fans' interests. And I think it's in the owners' interests, too, because one of the things that anti-trust laws involve are triple damages. So for every dollar and salary that the players lose, we're claiming $3 in damages under the anti-trust law.

Ryssdal: For a grand total of how much?

Boies: I've never run the numbers.

Ryssdal: Oh come on. Somebody has.

Boies: All you have to do is take all of the millions of dollars -- many millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions, if you will, that go to player salary -- and multiply by three.

Ryssdal: What about you, sir? Does this impact you? Are you a fan?

Boies: Sure. Absolutely. I think it impacts us all.

Ryssdal: David Boies, he's a lawyer for the NBA Players' Association -- the now-disbanded, we should say, NBA Players' Association. We put in a call to the league, they're working on getting David Stern, the commissioner, for us. Mr. Boies, thanks very much.

Boies: OK, thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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