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Lockout forces NBA to scrap games through December

Derek Fish of NBA players association speaks during news conference to reject NBA's latest offer in New York
Derek Fish of NBA players association speaks during news conference to reject NBA's latest offer in New York

(Reuters) - The fate of the National Basketball Association (NBA) season remained in limbo Tuesday after players filed a lawsuit against the governing body and another two weeks of competition were scrapped.

As expected, players filed a class action lawsuit against the NBA, setting the stage for a complicated legal battle to resolve their bitter labor dispute.

The court action came as the NBA formally notified teams that all regular season games through to December 15 had been canceled, extending the delay to six weeks after the first month of games was already lost. The season was supposed to start on November 1.

The moves came a day after players rejected a contract offer that included plans for a shortened season, saying the terms were unacceptable and they wanted to pursue legal action.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Northern California, was brought on behalf of named plaintiffs, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Leon Powe.

The suit seeks to represent NBA players and other prospective professionals while the defendants include the league and its 30 member teams.

"Rather than competing for the players' services," the lawsuit said, "defendants have combined and conspired to eliminate such competition among themselves for NBA players through group boycotts, concerted refusals to deal, and agreements on restricting output and fixing prices."

The lawsuit seeks triple damages as a result of the antitrust violations.

The latest collective bargaining agreement that players turned down Monday, called for a 50-50 split of basketball related income between the owners and players and would have provided for a 72-game season to start on December 15.

The National Basketball Players Association also said it would no longer continue in collective bargaining and would dissolve the union to become a trade association in order to pursue legal action against the NBA.

A shift from the negotiating table to the courts sets the stage for a potentially lengthy battle with the entire NBA season hanging in the balance.

The NBA, which claims it lost $300 million last season with 22 of its 30 teams in the red, locked out players on July 1.

Players, who received 57 percent of basketball income in the previous contract, also are at odds with the owners over rules governing contracts and free agency. They have been locked out for almost five months.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Julian Linden/Greg Stutchbury)