The National Basketball Association's players union dissolved itself Monday, a tactic that threatens to transform the league's 138-day labor lockout into a lost 2011-12 season.
NBA Commissioner David Stern used the term "nuclear winter" to describe a decision that could produce a protracted court battle and cost the sport and its fans, arena workers and nearby restaurant staffs the entire season and perhaps beyond.
It also could force Timberwolves fans to find other fruitful ways to spend their winters, nuclear or otherwise.
Players on Monday rejected the NBA owners' latest offer -- a 50-50 split of basketball-related revenue (BRI), among many other issues -- and said they are disbanding their union so they can file an antitrust lawsuit against a league they claim hasn't bargained in good faith for the past two-plus years.
By doing so, players are betting they can get the NBA to improve its offer, or get a better deal through a court decision.
The dispute has darkened Target Center for the past month, just as long-suffering Wolves fans believed they finally had something to really cheer about after Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio, No. 2 overall draft pick Derrick Williams and accomplished new coach Rick Adelman were added to the team last summer.
The Wolves have already lost six scheduled regular-season games, costing them as well as everyone who parks cars, sells pretzels and waits tables before and after games in downtown Minneapolis. Now, months more of canceled nights are well in sight.
"Although we chose this today, we have not chosen to be in this position," said National Basketball Players Association President Derek Fisher, a veteran member of the Los Angeles Lakers. "This is not a strike. We want to get back to work and negotiate a fair deal, but that process has broken down and we can't continue today.
"This is where it stops for us as a union."
Wolves officials declined to comment, as they have done since the lockout began July 1, because the NBA is threatening teams with $1 million fines. Union officials Monday told players not to comment on the matter now that it is headed to court. Wolves union player representative Anthony Tolliver was the team's only player who attended Monday's decisive meeting in New York City.
Only two weeks ago, union executive director Billy Hunter said a deal for a new labor agreement was within reach.
Instead, players rejected offers from owners resolved to forge new rules for a system they say is broken. Owners claim 22 of 30 NBA teams lost a combined $300 million last season, a figure the players don't believe.
Monday, the players hired David Boies, the same high-powered lawyer who represented the NFL in its labor lawsuit with players over the summer, and proceeded toward dissolving the union rather than let the 450-player membership vote on the NBA's latest offer.
The league threatened a significantly worse offer if the players didn't accept the latest offer. Players received 57 percent of basketball revenues under the last labor deal. A 50-50 split is projected to put more than an additional $1 billion in owners' pockets over the proposed 10-year deal.
Owners have pushed for other "system" changes to dissuade the game's best players from using free agency to dictate where they will play, as stars such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams have done in the past 16 months either by signing with a bigger-market team or forcing a trade to one.
The NBA claimed its offer would increase player salaries from the current $5 million-plus average to $8 million and beyond during the life of the proposed 10-year deal. Stern also claims it will make the league better by providing "competitive balance" -- the catchphrase league officials have adopted for narrowing the gap in team payrolls. Last season, the Los Angeles Lakers spent $110 million in player salaries, the Sacramento Kings only $45 million.
Stern called the union's decision to dissolve now -- rather than in July, just after the last collective bargaining agreement expired -- "irresponsible" and said it's a "negotiating tactic, that's all it is."
"They should have done it a long time ago, then maybe we would have had a chance to save the season," Stern said in an interview with ESPN. "But they seem hell-bent on self-destruction, and I think it's very sad. ... What we do next is all put our faith and fate in the lawyers. There will be guaranteed years of litigation.
"When someone says what happens now, there will lots of paychecks missed for players and their families and for those dependent on the NBA for their living both in arenas and surrounding areas."
The NBA did not announce any more canceled games Monday, but in essence all games have been canceled at least through Dec. 15. Stern has maintained it will take 30 days from the time an agreement is reached until the league can begin the regular season.
The Wolves are offering season-ticket holders refunds (plus a 1 percent interest rate) for canceled games, or they can apply the money to 2012-13 season tickets for the same price as this season.
And just when will this season be? The two sides can still reach an agreement even while the union threatens or proceeds on legal action. The league, anticipating Monday's announcement, filed suit against the union last summer in a preemptive move.
Meanwhile, expect Wolves players such as Williams, Rubio, Kevin Love and others to consider offers to play overseas until a new labor agreement is reached.
The union's website for a time on Monday pretty much said it all. Web surfers found a nearly blank page and this message: Error 404: Basketball Not Found.