Sorting through the mess that may have ended the NBA season
With Monday's NBA news, it's increasingly unlikely that hoops fans will see their favorite stars this year.
November 15th, 2011
04:00 PM ET

Sorting through the mess that may have ended the NBA season

It appears to be a whine-off between warring clans of out-of-touch rich guys. With the NBA owners and players both opting for bombast over balance in their overtures, it’s difficult to see exactly what happened Monday afternoon.

This much is certain: The NBA offered players a deal and threatened that if they didn’t bite, the deal would get worse. The National Basketball Player’s Association didn’t vote on the proposal, disclaimed interest in its union (ending collective bargain negotiations) and is threatening to file a class-action antitrust suit against the NBA. The chance of a 2011-2012 season is now slimmer than your likelihood of hitting a full-court sky hook blindfolded.

This much is uncertain: everything.

The players and owners lose a great deal of control in the courts. The range of possibilities is now vast. It could be as simple as a judge ordering both sides back to the bargaining table, or it could result in billions in damages that owners say could bankrupt the league and play out in the courts for years.

Remember, this isn’t a strike, and the players will make the case in court that the league lockout prevented them from playing, i.e. earning a paycheck. They will be represented, in part, by David Boies, an attorney with some lofty antitrust credentials.

Move past NBA Commissioner David Stern’s talk of “nuclear winter” and the players’ and NBPA ex-executive director Billy Hunter’s chatter about strong-arming and ultimatums, and it appears both sides played hardball a little too well.

ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said he was sick of the fiasco and alleged “both sides seem completely oblivious as to what’s happening in the real world.”

The real world, of course, is experiencing debt crises and other staggering blows to the economy. Unemployment and foreclosures are soaring. Protests abound, from the Middle East to Europe to Wall Street. It’s a tough time to curry empathy over six-digit game checks.

Negotiating for two years only to walk away from the table now is tantamount to “running 26 miles of a marathon and then sitting down on the pavement and refusing to complete the final two-tenths of a mile. For what amounts to pennies on the dollar, the owners and players are putting a basketball season in jeopardy … jobs, careers, reputations, legacies,” Wilbon host wrote Tuesday.

Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen also felt scapegoats could be found among both players and owners.

“They will continue to blame and complain about each other. But any person of reason, watching from afar, is going to recognize blame on both sides of the table,” Thomsen wrote. “You may feel more anger for the owners or for the players, but if you are a fan of basketball then the bottom line is that you are angry with everybody who had anything to do with the fact that there is $4 billion in revenue on the table and they can't even talk any longer about how to share it.”

The one positive for basketball fans is that the players disclaimed interest in the union as opposed to decertifying it. As Rick Bonell of the Charlotte Observer reported, the decertification process could have taken time, where the disclaimer process is pretty speedy and allows the NBA to approach Hunter with another deal. It also allows the players to sue the NBA immediately.

According to Stern, the union threatened to disband in February and Monday's move took owners by surprise because the players could have disbanded in the summer. Point guard Deron Williams, who is now playing in Turkey, tweeted, "This is why I said we should have done this in July bc at least the process would have been underway… even over!"

It’s difficult to say which issues ultimately dissolved the talks because the sides are keeping their playbooks close to their chests, but one widely reported bone of contention was the revenue split.

Last year, players took 57 percent of the overall revenue. The NBA would like to see the divide closer to 50-50, but players reportedly wouldn’t go lower than 51 percent, according to CBS’ Ken Berger, who reported the sides were as many as 20 percentage points apart at one point in negotiations.

The league says, under its proposal, the players could swing 51 percent of revenue depending on league growth, a claim the players denied. In their counteroffer, the players said 1 percent of their 51 percent would go to retired players’ pensions and medical benefits, something the union funded in the past.

Other thorny issues were the soft salary cap and the luxury tax. A hard cap does not allow teams to exceed the salary cap for any reason, where a soft cap allows teams to exceed the cap to retain a player under the so-called Larry Bird rule. The luxury tax kicks in when teams exceed the soft cap by a certain amount.

Last season, the salary cap was $58 million and the luxury tax level was $70.3 million. Teams were taxed a dollar for every dollar they exceeded the threshold. The luxury tax money is generally split up among teams who did not pay the tax. Reports indicate the league wanted to raise the tax, while the players wanted it lowered.

There were many other complicated matters being argued, including reductions in minimum salaries and some rookies’ salaries, year-round drug testing, an escrow account to reimburse owners for money spent over the 50-50 split, exceptions to the luxury tax for certain players and sign-and-trade deals for taxpaying teams.

But the bottom line is the two sides couldn’t figure out how to split their enormous pie. While it might not break anyone’s heart to see millionaire ball players out of work or billionaire team owners dusting their stadiums for a season, reports are starting to emerge that the ramifications will be more widespread.

In addition to the arena workers, concessionaires, janitors, ushers, parking lot attendants and merchandise hawkers – average folks who pull minimum wage or near it as the players and owners make bank – CNN reported last month that the lockout’s effect will ripple beyond arenas.

As Slam magazine reports foreign teams are recruiting the NBA's newly unemployed, restaurants and shops near American basketball stadiums are bracing for the worst, with employers and employees wondering how much revenue they can draw without crowds flocking to games 41 nights a year.

Fran Berger, CEO of Farm of Beverly Hills near Los Angeles’ Staples Center, said she would have to cut some workers’ hours, and several stadium employees told CNN they feared they might not get the 1,100 annual hours needed to qualify for health insurance.

There’s also the fans, who notoriously dislike lockouts. During the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season, television ratings and attendance dropped significantly and didn’t rebound for years.

The New York Times reported in a 1998 story that formerly hardcore fans were sickened by the squabbles between owners and players and had come to the conclusion that “basketball is disintegrating into a game of greed.”

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Filed under: Basketball • Courts • Lawsuit • NBA • Sports
soundoff (852 Responses)
  1. J

    Good riddance. The lack of overall news coverage is a pretty good indicator that NOBODY CARES if the NBA goes away. Maybe that's something to consider when they set ticket prices and pay ridiculous salaries to these thugs, rapists and morons to play a game for a living.

    November 16, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. nuhights

    There isnt a player or players agent breaking any of the owners arm to offer obsurd max contracts!! If they dont sign for X amount then you dont play for my team! Its as simple as that. The owners should have stuck together in that philosophy. But there is always that one greedy owner who says, I can pay him more so let me increase that salary. Then the cycle goes on to where Gilbert Areanas can get a 100 million dollar contract!! Come on people, even at his best he was never worth that amount. How can you blame the players for the owners stupidity!!!

    November 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. studdmuffins

    Please don't sort it out. Let the whole business fail. Occupy the NBA! Wanna talk about overpaid non-talent? Most of these grossly overpaid athletes make far more than the average Wall-Streeter and in far less time.

    November 16, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Stuart Bishop

    Dear Author,
    You should use shorter words on a basketball topic because the fans, like the players, have little education.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Stuart Bishop

    basketball is an ugly all-american sport in which the players run around throwing a rubber ball

    November 16, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • suck it

      Says the guy that could never play basketball! dont hate the game

      November 16, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Eliott C. McLaughlin

    excuse me mr. bishop but i, the author of this article, am a big fan of basketball and i refuse to let you speak to me that way

    November 16, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • stuart bishop

      well i was only telling the truth and i am your boss i just used a fake name to see how you would react
      you mr. mclaughlin are fired

      November 16, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. SUCK MY BALLS DOT COM

    YOU WERE JUST BIT IN THE ASS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ELIOTT DID IT HURT BURRRRRNNNNN HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    November 16, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. THIS IS RIDICULOUS!!!

    I CAN'T BELIEVE WITH WHAT IS ALL HAPPENING IN THE WORLD, LET ALONE OUR OWN COUNTRY, THAT THERE IS NO BASKETBALL BECAUSE SOMEONE DOESN'T WANT TO DROP FROM 2 MILLION A YEAR TO 1 MILLION. HONESTLY, IT FRUSTRATES THE HELL OUT OF ME THAT WE HAVE HOMELESS PEOPLE THAT CAN'T GET A JOB AND A MAN THAT DRIBBLES A BALL FOR A COUPLE MILLION A YEAR IS WHINING BECAUSE THEY ARE ASKED TO TAKE A SLIGHT PAY CUT. I CAN CARELESS IF THEY PLAY OR NOT, IT'S REALLY NOT NEWS WORTHY. GOD FORBID, THESE MEN HAVE TO GO OUT AND GET A REAL JOB!!!!

    November 18, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse | Reply
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