Coming off last season's league-high 62 regular-season victories, Chicago Bulls players and fans had looked forward to the 2011-12 campaign, hopeful the team can reach the next level. Unfortunately for them, along with many other people whose livelihoods are being affected, Monday's news is best summed up as depressing.
After months of negotiations with the NBA owners, players rejected the league's latest collective bargaining proposal, which was of the take-it-or-leave-it variety, and began to disband from their union -- a decision that will shift labor talks to the courts rather than the bargaining table.
Now, the union is a "trade association to assist and support NBA players," as union officials wrote in a letter that was sent to their membership of roughly 450 players, but it will not engage in further discussions with the owners.
"This is the best decision for the players," union president and Lakers guard Derek Fisher told reporters Monday in New York. "I want to reiterate that point, that a lot of individual players have a lot of things personally at stake in terms of their careers and where they stand. And right now they feel it's important -- we all feel it's important to all our players, not just the ones in this room, but our entire group -- 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."
Following the union's meeting, NBA commissioner David Stern again spoke on ESPN's SportsCenter to make the owners' case. Stern, who made a wide range of media appearances since talks broke down last Thursday, said the league's heading towards a "nuclear winter" and that the players' plan to decertify the union is "just a negotiating tactic."
"It looks like the 2011-12 season is really in jeopardy," Stern said. "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.
"This is going to end up being a very unwise decision. ... [Players] have been badly misled."
Union officials said players would accept a 50-50 split of basketball-related income -- down from the 57 percent share of BRI they received in the expired deal -- as long as the league made concessions on the key, unresolved system issues. Clearly, there was common ground to be had.
In what was the most disheartening comment of the day, Stern said both sides "are very close" to an agreement. Talk is cheap, as the saying goes, and fans simply wanted to see results. For two sides that have stated how close a labor deal is, why compromises could not be worked out is anybody's guess.
Stern spent the the weekend reassuring players of the league's ultimatum and the "reset" offer that would return to the table if players were to reject the most recent deal. During the 1998-99 lockout, the union did not break apart and the league and its players reached an agreement on Jan. 6. This time around, instead of continuing talks with the union, the owners gave a drop-dead proposal in November that players obviously did not warm to.
As reported here on Sunday, Carlos Boozer represented the Bulls at Monday's mandatory meeting for player representatives from the NBA's 30 teams. He was joined by stars such as Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook, among others.
Although John Lucas III praised the union's leadership after attending last week's players meeting, he was one of the many players that turned to Twitter to express displeasure with the latest developments.
The Bulls guard, son of former NBA player and coach John Lucas, posted, "man this S--- IS CRAZY," before adding that his close bond with the league made it hard to take the sad news.
Meanwhile, Bulls backup point guard C.J. Watson may be returning to school.
"Let me go ahead and register for these last two classes I got to take," he tweeted, "to get my college degree since [it] don't look like [there's] going to be a season."
The guess here is that Bulls fans would prefer to begin debating about which shooting guard management should pair with reigning league MVP Derrick Rose in the backcourt -- not have the expected growth of the team hampered by the league-imposed lockout.