Basketball fans hoping for a quick resolution to the legal battle in California between NBA players and owners were handed some disappointing news -- the first court date is set for Feb. 29.
An official for the Northern District of California said Wednesday the date was the first one available when the players filed their antitrust complaint Tuesday night in Oakland.
The season can still start before February, however, because both sides acknowledge that an antitrust settlement could be agreed to at any time, even without the help of the courts.
If they do reach court on that day then the season would almost surely be lost. The league's drop-dead date for a season during the 1999 lockout was the first week in January.
Court documents showed that the case is still pending assignment for a district judge, which means that the date could yet change. The NBA declined to comment.
The suit alleges that the owners ended the collective bargaining process and "the express purpose of Defendants' group boycott and price-fixing is to reduce the salaries, terms, benefits and conditions of employment available in the market for players."
NBA commissioner David Stern told the players last week that the league and owners would significantly reduce their offer if they did not accept their last offer.
The league has canceled games through Dec. 15 and Stern said it takes 30 days to start a season.