NBA Players Drop Ball With Lawsuit

Leaving guaranteed money on the table and gambling on a judicial decision is a questionable bet.

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NBA players seem to be operating under a few delusions.

Their league isn't beloved like the NFL, which attracts hordes of devout fans who follow each season with religious zeal. NBA players don't have a favorable image among many who otherwise might buy season tickets or luxury suites. And the guaranteed money that NBA players are rejecting in labor negotiations isn't guaranteed to be recouped.

By choosing to change their union to a trade association and file an antitrust lawsuit against the owners -- putting the 2011-12 season in severe jeopardy -- NBA players illustrate their disconnect with reality. They insist they want a "fair deal" but say a 50-50 split of revenue doesn't qualify. They're squabbling over the difference between $5.4 million for the average player or $5 million.

In this economy, where so many ordinary folks have gone from making $54,000 to the unemployment line, homeless shelter and soup kitchen, no one wants to hear NBA players whine that they're underpaid.

You're paid what the market will bear, or maybe a little less if you have little leverage in negotiations.

The NBA owners aren't guilt-free. Winning the labor deal isn't good enough; they want a crushing victory, a knockout. With a little movement on their part, this latest development could have been avoided. Instead, we're facing what commissioner David Stern has termed the NBA's "nuclear winter."

Pursuing lengthy legal remedies at this point is risky for the players. They could win several billion dollars in treble damages in the antitrust lawsuit (and have a crippled league to play in). Or they could lose and end up with a worse deal than the one on the table -- never recouping their lost earnings.

When this mess is eventually resolved, the league will have a hard time convincing the public to pluck down hard-earned dollars again, after the owners and players essentially turned their backs on fans. The owners started the dispute by locking out the players, but it's the players who take most of the public relations hits.

They have the highest average salaries in pro sports, and their contracts are guaranteed. But they'll take their chances in court, in the midst of the worst economic times since the Great Depression.

Good luck with that.

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