A battle between basketball team owners and players in the US which threatens to cause the cancellation of the entire 2011-12 NBA season appears to be heading for the courtroom after the players' union rejected a new pay offer.

The NBA season was due to start two weeks ago but has been delayed until at least December 15 by a near-140-day lockout by the league over the players' demand for a greater share of revenues.

Following the collapse of contract talks on Monday, the players moved to disband their union, which had been representing them collectively, in order to begin the process of filing an antitrust lawsuit against the league.

"We understand the consequences that players could potentially face if things don't go our way, but it's a risk worth taking"

Union vice president Maurice Evans

"We understand the consequences of potentially missing the season; we understand the consequences that players could potentially face if things don't go our way, but it's a risk worth taking," union vice president Maurice Evans said.

"It's the right move to do."

Billy Hunter, executive director of the union, said the union had acted after David Stern, the NBA's commissioner, told players that if they didn't accept the latest proposal then they should brace for an even harsher one when, and if, talks resumed.

"We've given and given and given, and they got to the place where they just reached for too much and the players decided to push back," said Hunter.

But Stern called the decision to reject the latest deal a "tragedy" and the decision to sue the NBA, "a tactic that won't work".

Time ticking

In order for the NBA to have a full 72-game season, Stern admitted the two sides would likely have had to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement within the next week.

The NBA says last season wasn't profitable for most of the league's 30 owners, who are seeking a bigger share of league revenues.

The latest deal offered players a 50-50 split, but players objected to what they saw as too many restrictions on their earnings under the terms of the deal.

Although players could face a potentially lengthy court battle, it could also net them billions of dollars in damages.

But Sports Illustrated magazine's Grant Wahl told Al Jazeera there was a possibility that Stern and the NBA could decide to void contracts which would result in "a complete free-for-all".

"These players only have a certain amount of time in the league and they would like to be earning money right now," he said.

The NBA's last work stoppage reduced the 1998-99 season to 50 games.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies