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. herman

    I hope they cancell the whole season. Since Tree Rollins left the game just hasnt been the same.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • DeeNYC

      Bookies need to earn too you know!

      November 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Glenn Q

      Tree still eaten dem fingers tho!! GIGGIDY

      November 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. herman

    Plus everyone keeps beating the Hawks. Everyone knows Atlanta is supposed to win. The other teams are just cheaters.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. pedro'

    I agree with you 100 percent our friend herman. You said it all. Nothing else to say. The Hawks are a good nice team.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. pedro'

    Dominique Wilkins, Tree Rollins, Pistol Pete Maravich, Lou Hudson, Walt Bellamy, Herm Gilliam, and little Spud Web . Those were some ballplayers. When basketball was really basketball and not just about money. TREE ! TREE ! TREE !

    November 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jeff

    YEP ! : ) TREE ! TREE ! TREE ! : )

    November 15, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. BOMBO

    Let them play in Europe for a year. Bring in some meaninful rule changes when they come back. It helped improve hockey.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Cain and Munster

    Welcome to the club, Herman.

    November 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mwhite

    In total disgust with the whole thing! It will be a very long time before the NBA wins this FAN back!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Soicanleavecomments OnBlogs

    Players can start their own league. Make money and build own stadium. Players get all the money (no longer a player no money). Win win.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • sportreform

      Yes, brother comrade, yes. The PPBL: the Proletariat Players Basketball League. Then they can lock themselves out.

      November 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      they r just overpaid rubber ball chasers

      November 15, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • mh916

      Uh, I'm just curious. How do the players make the money to build the stadium before they play any games? It's a small detail I know, but it seems important, doesn't it? Oh, I know. They could find an owner to build the stadium and pay the player's salaries. What a great idea!!!


      November 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. chillipepper

    I hope they cancel the season. Then next season the players come crawling back. These spoiled NBA players are very greedy. One reason is they throw their money around and don't know how to save. So they need more and more to keep buying their castles, bling, planes, women.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Allcity

      Yeah, and the owners don't do nothing like that with their money (sarcasm...) Reason they locked the players out.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. swschrad

    first raw, stupid move was the owners locking out the players. right there that says t'heck with you guys, we don't care. the cheap owners have killed the golden goose, and the rest just got greedy and went along. hope they can rent out their arenas for tractor pulls and rasslin' nights.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • really??

      most stadiums are financed with bonds from cities...the owners dont pay for the stadiums.

      Aside from sports, what other profession pays one millions of dollars to play a child's game? without basketball, these so called "stars" ain't nothing. Hopefully the degree in communications will pull in the multimillion dollar salary

      November 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Arnaud

    Well I just got issued a refund for my season tickets to the rockets. I was holding out, but I have better places to send my money than to either party in this equation...

    November 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • mm

      Right on!

      November 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • PatrickK

      You're better off – the rockets suck!

      November 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dweezil22

    They can skip he next three seasons as far as I am concerned.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joe

    Just means I'll have more time to watch other things.
    But the players will all get physically healthy (if not monetarily poorer) as they gear up for the 2012-2013 season.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. SFA

    Good bye NBA no one cares!!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
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