In an effort to overturn the NBA's salary cap and prevent a possible lockout, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and five other players filed an antitrust suit against the league Wednesday in federal court in Minneapolis.
The 27-page class action, which included all 29 teams as defendants and called them a monopoly, claimed the salary cap and draft are illegal because the previous labor contract expired and the union no longer represents a majority of players.
Jordan and Ewing also are part of a group trying to decertify the union, whose leaders reached a tentative six-year labor accord with the league last week.
"The salary-cap system is a leaguewide price-fixing agreement among competitors to restrict the wages of all NBA players," said the suit, whose other plaintiffs are Stacey Augman of Atlanta, Dale Davis of Indiana, Alonzo Mourning of Charlotte, and Howard Eisley and Stacey King of Minnesota.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Jan. 24 that NBA players can't proceed with an antitrust suit as long as they are unionized. So dissident players decided to try to strip the union of its bargaining authority, opening the possibility of an antitrust case _ and its provisions for triple damages.
"This is not a deal for our benefit," Jordan said during a conference call. "If we don't make a stand now, there's not going to be a chance for any other players to get their fair value in the future."
NBA commissioner David Stern defended the legality of all NBA operations and said the suit doesn't affect negotiations with the union. He also noted that players had bargained for a salary cap.
"The agents running this other operation are running into court so they can subvert the very process they put into effect," Stern said.
Magic player representative Donald Royal said many of the players who signed the complaint didn't understand it and were simply listening to their agents.
"If we don't have a union, it's going to be a sad day," added Royal, who said he didn't know whether any of his Magic teammates signed. "They (owners) could just institute whatever they wanted. For guys who are superstars, it wouldn't make a difference. But for the rest of guys, it would hurt badly."
Union leader Simon Gourdine said "these notices and the lawsuit have no effect whatsoever on our continued negotiations with the NBA."
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board scheduled a July 5 hearing to determine whether to call an election on decertification. Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer for players trying to decertify the union, claims that because the union was not formed by a vote, but recognized by the league, submitting petitions Wednesday to the league and union was sufficient to end collective bargaining.
"Whether we go forward or not depends on how the players' association reacts," Kessler said. "If the union insists on an election, we'll have an election. We already know the decision."
_ Staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.