basketball.jpgAn antitrust lawsuit filed by locked-out players against the National Basketball Association and its 30 teams was assigned to a federal judge in San Francisco today.

The lawsuit was originally filed on Tuesday in the Oakland branch of the U.S. District Court for Northern California. But it was randomly assigned today to be heard by U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti in San Francisco, according to a notice in the court docket.

A case management conference before Conti was scheduled for March 9.

The lawsuit claims the lockout, which began July 1, is an illegal boycott and that the teams conspired to fix prices in player contracts in violation of antitrust law.

It was filed by attorney David Boies of Armonk, N.Y., on behalf of four players, including Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks and free agent Leon Powe of Oakland, who signed a contract in March with the Memphis Grizzlies.

A similar lawsuit was in federal court in Minnesota Tuesday by four other players. Both suits seek to be certified as class action on behalf of all professional NBA players and eligible players.

Under antitrust law, the lawsuits seek compensation of triple the amount of salary lost by the players this season.

The lawsuit now assigned to Conti claims, “The express purpose of defendants’ group boycott and price fixing is to reduce the salaries, terms, benefits and conditions available in the market for players.”

NBA spokesman Tim Frank said of the lawsuits on Tuesday, “It’s a shame the players have chosen to litigate rather than negotiate.”

The lawsuits were filed after the National Basketball Players Association disbanded as a union and transformed itself into a trade association, thus ending collective bargaining efforts and enabling the players to challenge the lockout under antitrust law as individual employees.

A third lawsuit was filed against the now-disbanded union by the New York-based NBA in U.S. District Court in Manhattan in August. That lawsuit asks the court to rule that the lockout is legal.

All three lawsuits, and any others that may be filed in other federal courts, could be combined in the same court if a federal judicial panel on multidistrict litigation decides that it would be practical and efficient to do so.

The panel would decide which court would handle the cases.

The Oakland-based Golden State Warriors is one of the 30 teams named as defendants along with the NBA in the case now pending in San Francisco. Team spokesman Dan Martinez on Wednesday referred a request for comment to the NBA.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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