Players file first antitrust suit in Minnesota, official one in California

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Well, the NBA is in the courts now, not on the courts.

Four players — Anthony Tolliver, Ben Gordon, Caron Butler and recent No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams (who does not yet have an NBA contract) — became the first plaintiffs in a players suit to challenge the lockout on antitrust grounds. This first lawsuit was filed in Minnesota and was a class action representing all players. Minnesota is where the NFL players filed their case, a place the players see as friendly to their case.

However, that was not the main suit filed by the players antitrust attorneys. It was a different action and one some reports suggest the union was surprised by.

A second — and the players’ official — suit was filed in Northern California with the plaintiffs being Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Kevin Durant, Leon Powe and Kawhi Leonard (another rookie without a contract).

The first lawsuit states (according to the AP) that the owners’ lockout “constitutes an illegal group boycott, price-fixing agreement, and/or restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Act.”

The players are framing this as a restraint of trade issue, saying the owners’ proposed CBA would have damaged the free market for players to ply their trade.

This lawsuit was made possible by Billy Hunter and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) leadership filing a “disclaimer of interest” Monday, essentially saying the union was no longer interested in representing the players in contract negotiations. This legal strategy is the course NBA player team representatives decided to take Monday.

The next move by the players will be to file for summary judgement — a ruling from a judge that they win on the facts alone.

The league will soon step in and first challenge the entire disclaimer as a sham, saying essentially that the union has been negotiating for two years, it can’t just walk away and say it’s not a union anymore.

The second battle will be over venue. The owners filed a preemptive lawsuit trying to block union decertification in August, and they filed it in New York. One of the first issues to be decided will be if these cases need to be in the same venue and decided by one judge, and if so which venue.

This is just the start of the legal wrangling that could well doom the entire NBA season.