Basketball fans searching for a glimmer of hope that the rest of the NBA season is salvageable should prepare instead for a "nuclear winter."
The Doomsday rhetoric flared Monday when players rejected the league's latest contract proposal, and the NBA Players Association decided it wants to dissolve the union and let the courts intervene in the failed negotiations.
"It looks like the 2011-12 season is really in jeopardy," NBA Commissioner David Stern told ESPN, adding that "we're about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA."
Billy Hunter, executive director of the union, said the players would file an antitrust suit against the NBA in the next couple of days.
"That's the best situation where players can get their due process," he said at a news conference at a midtown hotel Monday that included several prominent players, including Knicks stars Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
Their contract expired June 30, and since then both the players and owners have been unable to decide how to split the league's $4 billion in annual revenue.
In a last-ditch effort, owners proposed a 50-50 split and a season that would begin Dec. 15, but the union rejected the offer yesterday. While players were willing to earn less revenue than in their previous contract, they were still unhappy with issues related to free agency and the contract length.
Games are cancelled through at least the end of the month. Observers, however, said the implications of a players' lawsuit could mean basketball is going to be a bust for a while.
"It really makes it unlikely we'll see a season this year," said Robert Boland, an NYU sports business professor.
Players in the NFL also moved to decertify their union in March over failed contract talks. That process took four months to resolve after the league locked out its players and some sued their teams in court.
Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney for the NBA players, declined Monday to talk about legal strategies.
"An antitrust case takes years from filing to conclusion. That's not a viable option for either party in this case," said Scott Rosner, a sports law professor at the Wharton Sports Business Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania.
The last NBA lockout in 1998-99 wasn't resolved until January, which still allowed for a 50-game season. Should a best-case scenario occur now, a season "can still happen," Rosner said.
Tommy Dee of theknicksblog.com said fans are chomping at the bit to see the Knicks return after having a strong season this past year thanks to the additions of Amar'e Stoudemire and Anthony.
"If they throw up the ball come January, fans will be excited and get behind [the franchise] again," Dee said.
NBA lockout scenarios
•Worst case: The players file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA this week and the players officially vote to decertify their union.
Negotiations could still resume through the courts, but the case may ultimately go to trial. That could take another year or more to resolve, legal experts say, and means the current season would be scrapped and put next season in jeopardy, too.
•Best case: Team owners, wanting to come to a resolution sooner than later, compromise with players' demands over revenue sharing and other sticking points. Depending on how long it takes, a shortened season could still materialize by January or February.
•Other possibility: The federal labor board will also have a say in whether the owners and players negotiated fairly. The NBA filed an unfair labor practice charge against the players, accusing them of using decertification as a bargaining weapon. Players also filed their own charge, claiming the owners did not negotiate in good faith.