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Players vote to reject offer, decertify union. Season likely doomed.

Nov 14, 2011, 2:08 PM EDT

NBPA Meet To Discuss Current CBA Offer Getty Images

This is Armageddon. Nuclear winter is upon NBA fans.

The players got together in New York on Monday and not only voted to reject the league’s ultimatum offer, but voted to start the process to decertify the union.

“We’ve arrived at the conclusion that the collective bargaining process has completely broken down, and as a result in the last hour we have served a notice of disclaimer on (David) Stern and the NBA,” union director Billy Hunter said after the meeting. “We plan to disseminate that to all 30 teams. …

“The players are not ready to accept the ultimatum. They thought it was completely unfair on the part of the NBA ownership and management. … We have negotiated in good faith for two years, but the players have felt they have given enough.”

That step — a notice of disclaimer essentially says the union has no interest in representing the players in negotiations any longer and is abandoning that right — is the first step in anti-trust lawsuits that will be filed by players in the coming days. This is the step the NFL players’ union took and something agents have pushed the NBA union to do since July. The timing essentially blows up the negotiating process when there wasn’t a lot of time left to save the 2011-12 season.

The courts move slowly, but the union has reached its breaking point. It has gone to the one, big card it could play.

The reaction of the owners will be to hunker down, play hardball and try to force their entire wish list — such as salary rollbacks and a hard salary cap — on the players. The owners are not going to be scared by this at all.

Basically, Commissioner Stern is going to let his hardliners have the run of the place. Guys who were already willing to miss a season get to have their way.

Meanwhile, NBA fans lose. And so does the league.

“This is where it stops for us as a union,” said Derek Fisher, union president.

It might be where a lot of fans stop if a full season is lost. But the union is moving forward with these plans.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo, several players have hired top anti-trust attorney David Boies. If the name is familiar, he was involved in the NFL’s anti-trust cases. Boies is the guy who had the anti-trust cases against Microsoft (and had some success there) and he was they guy representing Al Gore in Gore vs. Bush.

Technically, what this legal move does is turn the union into a “trade association” that works for the players but does not represent them in negotiating a CBA. Ultimately when a deal is struck, the union will reform.

Stern did not back down in an interview on ESPN, saying the players got bad advice on negotiating tactics if this was their move.

“It’s not going to work,” Stern said. “If they were going to do this, maybe they should have done this a long time ago so we had a chance to save the season. But they seem hell-bent on self-destruction.”

The league already has filed a lawsuit trying to block decertification of the union, and there have been arguments on the players’ efforts to have that case dismissed (but no ruling yet). That situation just becomes a lot more messy.

The players’ announcement came after about a four-hour meeting where about 50 players were looking at a take-it-or-leave-it offer from the league. That deal offered the players a 50/50 share of league revenue (once the owners took a healthy cut of expenses off the top) and a much more restrictive system of player movement than had been allowed before. The offer the players had wanted would have returned about $280 million a season (in last year’s dollars) to the owners, but the players wanted a less restrictive system. The owners had long said the two were not tied. It wanted both the money and the system changes.

Stern has said that if the players rejected this offer, the owners would counter with a “reset” offer that would give the players just 47 percent of basketball related income (down from 50 in the last offer and 57 percent last season) and a hard salary cap. The players’ meeting was well-attended and featured not only team representatives but also Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and many other star players. They all raised their hands in the press conference and said they supported this move.

Stern has warned the players against decertification and called it a “nuclear option.” The players just pushed the button.

It is a dark, dark day for the NBA.

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