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. william

    I think that all of this spoiled people should have to go to work at a real job. One that means they have to be at work at 7 am and leave at 5 and make $35.000 a year. If we look at history, we find that professtional sports helped cause the fall of Rome. When we put these athletes on thrones and pay them unlimited salaries, when we have teachers who make just enough not to receive gov. assistants something is wrong with this picture. ,

    November 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • jwilly22

      I agree 100%. they aren't doing anything to warrant a six figure plus paycheck. spoiled rotten!

      November 15, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Professional sports helps minorities think that they can make it. Helps keep them from breaking into our homes at night, beating us up and taking all our stuff.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Henry

      so true....

      November 15, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      While I agree with you that this is ridiculous (Especially if it's 1%!!) I have to ask why you think that professional sports led to the downfall of Rome? I have never heard that claim before.

      But whatever, both parties have too much money at stake, they'll eventually settle at 50.5% or something.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jwilly22

    wow! amazing how NBA players believe they are worth so much money. They aren't curing a disease or coming up with new technology. Putting a ball through a goal doesn't rank too high on the advancing of our species or planet list. They should be greatful for any dollar amount they recieve.....the NBA should just bring in the best college players to replace them

    November 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. streetheat1

    Hey both sides can bag it! We got HOCKEY!!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • aNN

      Hockey sucks , Always has always will. I'd rather watch Soccer and that's Bad

      November 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      when you 'puck' it that way i have to agree:)

      November 15, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. magi

    Most over-paid athletes on the planet. They should have jumped at the 50/50 offer. Good riddance.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Ed Sr

    To heck with brown ball and their 6 figure salaries! We don't need the game!.....Go play it at the park for FUN! Forget about paying to see these dunderheads shoot baskets! We don't need them either....have them get a REAL job where they have to work for a whole lot less money!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. steve

    the only one's losing out on this mess is the drug dealers!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • stuart bishop

      i reported abuse on your post
      u suck balls

      November 15, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Vance

    I hope they never play again.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. shut_up

    whats up with all of the black guys in the front? looks like the white guys are in the back of the bus? where is jesse jackazz when you need him, oh wait.. he only whines for the blacks...........................

    November 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • jwilly22

      relevance?

      November 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ted

      PLese do what your name says. We have enough racist in this country.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. David M

    Is there anyone on the players side of this who has at least an elementary understanding of finances? I didn't think so. All they want to see is more dollar signs. I got news for you boys, those of us who have been going to your games are thinking twice about ever going again. Here we are in very difficult economic times and the people who get paid millions for a part time job are squabbling like little kids over money.

    Not much demand in the job market for out of work basketball players. You may want to rethink your 'strategy', assuming you have one.

    I will NEVER pay another cent to see an NBA game. If you never play another NBA game....oh well. The quality of my life will not suffer one bit.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. FrustratedNBAFan

    The high salaries in ALL professional sports will eventually kill off the fan base given the state of the world's economic crisis. Being able to afford game tickets, etc. will take a back seat to putting food on the table, making the mortgage payment and other necessities in life. And that's if you are employed! I say let the issue go before the courts, and let the fur fly, and we'll see just how much sympathy and support comes forth from the fans. Both owners and players are to blame for allowing this issue to develop into this mess, and both greedy parties deserve to feel the pain.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Ray O

    Who really cares, players make to much, all of them should get a job for $20 an hours and then complain

    November 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Robert

    Cancel the regular season and let's get right to the playoff's which seem to take forever. Pick a few teams out of the hat.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Dreamer96

    The fans should buyout the NBA owners, like the Wisconsin fans did with the Green Bay Packers....Get the greedy top 1% out of the sports world...

    November 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jim Flores

    So,...am I to assume that the Mavericks get to be champs another year ? Go Mavs...

    November 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. petz

    WHO CARES!?!?!? Let 'em blow off this season AND the next and every season there after. Let's put more college basketball on. They play for the love of the game, not love of money.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • stuart bishop

      i hear you i played in college

      November 15, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
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