The NBA Players Association on Monday rejected the owners' latest offer and have launched a drive to disband their union, throwing the entire 2011-2012 pro basketball season into jeopardy.
Players had the option to accept the offer, which proposed a shortened 72-game schedule beginning December 15 to end a months-long lockout, or turn it down outright.
They chose the latter and Billy Hunter, executive director of the players union, said the talks had now "completely broken down."
"This deal could have been done. It should have been done," Hunter said. "We've given and given and given, and they got to the place where they just reached for too much and the players decided to push back."
NBA commissioner David Stern reiterated Monday that if the current offer is rejected, the owners would come back to the table with an even harsher one.
"We're about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA," Stern told ESPN. "If I were a player ... I would be wondering what it is that Billy Hunter just did."
The players union filed a "notice of disclaimer" with the NBA head office in New York an hour before they staged their news conference on Monday.
The two sides can remain negotiating during the decertification and legal wranglings, so no one wants to write off the season just yet.
But in order for the NBA to have a 72-game season, Stern admitted the two sides would likely have to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement within the next week. Now it appears Stern will move to cancel more games sooner than later.
"It looks like the 2011-12 season is really in jeopardy," Stern told ESPN. "It's just a big charade. To do it now, the union is ratcheting up I guess to see if they can scare the NBA owners or something. That's not happening."
Union president Derek Fisher insisted he has the support of the players and was flanked at Monday's news conference by several stars, including Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.
"This is the best decision for the players," Fisher said.
"A lot of individual players have a lot of things personally at stake in terms of their careers.
"And right now they feel it's important ... that we not only try to get a deal done for today but for the body of NBA players that will come into this league over the next decade and beyond."
A key sticking point remains the division of some $4 billion in annual revenue.
Players received 57 percent of basketball-related income under their previous contract, and now the owners want a 50-50 split.
Stern had said if the latest offer was rejected and there was another bargaining meeting, it would be based on a 53-47 split of revenues in the owners' favor, a flexible salary cap with a hard ceiling and salary rollbacks.
Players' representatives said they were prepared to dissolve the union and file an antitrust lawsuit against the league over the lockout, which has lasted for more than four months.
"The players feel they're not prepared to accept any ultimatum," said Hunter, calling the offer "extremely unfair" on the part of the NBA management.
Stern, who said he was saddened and "terribly disappointed," insisted the latest offer was a good one and warned that decertification was not the way forward.
"We're not going to cancel the season this week," Stern said over the weekend. "We're just going to present to them what we told them we would."
The league has already wiped out all of the games scheduled in November -- a month's worth of action in a campaign that was to have started November 1.
The previous collective bargaining agreement expired July 1.
Despite a series of meetings in June, the two sides never got close to hammering out a new deal before the deadline.
The owners say changes are needed because they lost $300 million last season and hundreds of millions more in each year of the old agreement, which came into effect in 2005.