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. Matt

    This is SUCH a tragedy... I'm so upset right now! I just wish I could do more from where I'm sitting. I guess the best I can do is find a local charit... wait... this isn't an article about Darfur is it?

    November 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • hawaiiduude

      no neanderthals

      November 15, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Factors

      If I tried very hard – I could not move myself to care less!
      Cancel the season now. Let the millionaires experience the REAL WORLD. Let them stay out permanently – it's no great loss. Goodbye SUCKA'S!!!

      November 15, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. NBA overrated

    Kill the season already.There's life beyond the NBA.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. ThaGerm

    I was already pretty down on the whole sport as soon as they stopped calling traveling, it's pretty much just thug-ball now. This however, has made me resolute to stop watching or going to games. It just isn't as fun anymore and these imbeciles putting thousands out of work all because if their own greed. I hope they all get EXACTLY whats coming to them.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Alex Jones of info wars

    I believe last season was the last season of the nba as we know it.Stick a fork in it,the nba is a thing of the past.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Robert

    I think it's unfortunate that the league has become almost all black players. I'm not pregidous – I voted for Obama, but it would be better for fan interest to have more balance.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • hawaiiduude

      holly wood said white men can't jump! Is it racist to say black man can't swim?

      November 15, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • BREEZE

      Robert, the nba is all about the best of the best. Do you remember the replacement football players? If you want to just watch basketball, there is always ncaa.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Paul J

    To be honest, I enjoy hearing about the back and forth between players and owners more then the game itself.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. MRV

    The NBA players can go shove it where the sun does not shine. They are over paid and a bunch a cry babies.

    NBA you have lost a fan. I'd rather go watch racing!

    November 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Gary

    Who cares?

    November 15, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. NBA GARBAGE

    NBA no white players but white players on bench.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. RE McKay

    Just another group of greedy play-for-pay entertainers. Not sportsmen at all. Kids ... don't idolize these people. Take up college ball. They don;t get paid millions to let fans down.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Dr FktheNBA

    What the hell are they thinking.. The top two percent income players are making decisions for the rest of the NBA. The whole situation sounds like the rest of the country. The richest of the NBA players have just cut the head off of the entire NBA. Call the owners greedy, but they are the owners. LaBron started all of this by dictating where he would play, and everyone that followed to Miami "just to get a ring" added to the injury. If players are allowed to run the league, then this is exactly what you are going to get! The only way to run the league is to share the best players, and to share the revenue. Or you end up with a four team league of super spoiled super stars, and the rest of the country not giving a crap!

    November 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • edwin

      could of not said it better myself!!

      November 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. tony

    Some players are willing to pay in Europe for well over 50% less pay then in the NBA. Amazing they are worried about that 1%..........Seems like they are content to play for alot less....Maybe the NBA should structure their contracts like NBA Europe and the players would be happy

    November 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. derek

    Screw the nba, especially the players, I'll never watch again if this season is reduced to half a season.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Nick

    I've attended about 10 games in the last 2 seasons. Guess how many I plan on attending the rest of my life? Answer: zero. I'm over it!

    November 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. danial54

    Screw'm all...owners and players. They're all so stinkin rich and yet they still fight over money. We should boycot the NBA and all professional sports that create these messes. THEY ARE PLAYING GAMES! They should never make this kind on money anyway. Some point out that teachers get 3 months off, which they don't, but professional athletes do get huge vacations each year and still make millions. Talk about imbalance!

    November 15, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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