An attempt by the NBA Players Association to abolish the salary cap, college draft and right of first refusal was thwarted yesterday by a federal judge who ruled that the measures do not violate antitrust laws.
The decision in New York by Judge Kevin Duffy is a victory for the NBA and sends both sides back to work out a new collective bargaining agreement. Each side had sued the other after the collective bargaining agreement expired at the end of the season, essentially delaying off-season signings and deals until the court ruling.
"No court, no matter how highly situated, can replace this time-honored manner of labor dispute resolution," Duffy said in urging both sides to bargain. "Rather than clogging the court with unnecessary litigation, the parties should pursue this course."
Charles Grantham, executive director of the players association, was said to be studying the decision yesterday afternoon and was not available for comment. But Russell Granik, the NBA's deputy commissioner and the league's lead negotiator, said he's ready to resume bargaining.
"The court ruled that as long as there's a collective bargaining relationship, that business should go on as it has," Granik said. "We have not had any contact with the union [yesterday]. But we made it clear over the last few days that regardless of the decision, we felt we would have to go back to the bargaining table. Hopefully, we can work something out."
The ruling comes less than a week after a one-day trial in which Buck Williams, Dominique Wilkins and Danny Manning testified that current restrictions prevented them from full enjoyment as basketball players.
The players association's main concerns were threefold:
* In eliminating the college draft, the group sought to allow incoming players the right to negotiate with any team.
* The salary cap, implemented in 1983 when the league was struggling, was described by the group as outdated at a time when the league generated $385 million in attendance revenue in 1992-93 (up from $88 million in 1983-84) and league-licensed products were expected to generate $3 billion in sales this past season. The salary cap's formula distributes 53 percent of the NBA's gross revenues equally among the teams.
* The right of first refusal lets a team limit the movement by a free agent by matching the salary offered by another team.
Granik said that changes should be expected through the bargaining process.
"The business has changed a lot in the last 10 years," Granik said. "There are certain concerns as far as revenue, and I expect the players to make certain demands in regard to that. We have to find a system that enables us and the players to have a proper and fair division of the revenues."
Asked if the league were willing to restructure the salary cap, Granik said: "We're open to negotiations on all the points." But he said he couldn't "envision a sport that doesn't have a draft."
Duffy, in his ruling, chastised both sides for "using the court as a bargaining chip in the collective bargaining process. Each is truly guilty of this practice."
The judge also suggested that the players can strike or decertify the union as its collective bargaining agent.
Granik said that he sees no reason why the league and the players association can't have a new agreement in effect in time for the 1994-95 season.
"We have a lot of lawyers ready to work," he said. "If you put them and us in a room, we can make a deal."