New York: Basketball players union executive director Billy Hunter said Tuesday he expected that a Minnesota magistrate judge would mediate the players' lawsuit against the NBA, as the court did in the National Football League's labour dispute.
Hunter specifically mentioned U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, the court-appointed mediator in the NFL talks. Boylan is not the magistrate assigned to the NBA antitrust suit, although the district judge has the discretion to appoint a different magistrate to mediate.
"What may very well be is the judge there directs the magistrate, as they did in the NFLPA case, to host a settlement conference, and that could possibly occur as early as next week," Hunter said.
One reason the players' lawyers decided to consolidate two suits against the NBA in Minnesota, he said, was that the district court there routinely uses magistrates to mediate cases.
Different groups of players filed separate lawsuits in California and Minnesota last week. On Monday, lawyers withdrew the California complaint and filed a consolidated, amended suit in Minnesota. Players attorney David Boies said at the time that the choice was made because cases move faster in Minnesota.
Hunter said Tuesday that the possibility of having a magistrate mediate also played into the decision, with the same goal in mind: resolving the labour strife quickly.
"It makes it easier for the parties to get together when the court is involved," he said.
NBA owners locked out the players July 1, and the labour strife has forced games to be cancelled through December 15.
The owners had already filed a lawsuit of their own in the Southern District of New York and could file a motion to have the Minnesota case moved there.
After the two sides were unable to reach an accord, the players disbanded the union last week. That set the stage for the increasingly bitter labour dispute to move from the negotiating table to the courtroom, which could jeopardize the entire 2011-12 season.
Hunter spoke Tuesday after NBPA officials and players distributed Thanksgiving turkeys to local families outside their office in Harlem. The NBPA gave away 9,000 turkeys nationally in New York, Atlanta, Houston, Washington, Miami and New Orleans.
The Knicks' Roger Mason Jr., a member of the NBPA board, said he didn't find anything awkward about discussing the players' demands right after distributing the turkeys.
"Especially during the lockout where you have two (sides) unable to get something done and there's a lot of talk of greed - Thanksgiving season, this is a time to give back," he said, "and I just feel like it's important for all of us to do that."