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. Randle4

    Using words like swagga,thuggish,dem brothas,is rascist get well soon rascist

    November 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Arran Webb

    There are no laws against the rich being as rich as they can be. That is why there are pitch forks.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. malibu123

    Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end for the NBA. The league has been heading to the dumpster for years: over half the teams are losing money, ticket sales and TV viewership are tanking, the quality of play blows, and the economics are simply unsustainable. Good bye.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. kdm0828

    Good ridence, just like all other union workers, there are people that will do you exact job for half the pay, and do it happily.....cancel the season, spare us watching your greedy @s's for 7 months

    November 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Help

    They make an average of $5 million per year and show up for a national news conference in sweatshirts, haha. Clueless.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Flawed Date

    An unemployed basketball player's off-court skills amount to saying "Paper or Plastic?" Do any of us really care what happens during these negotiations?

    November 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      They don't deserve the retail jobs. What few there are, let's give those to vets returning from the middle east.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Rutgersmo

    All strikes against sports teams point out the truth: it's a business. The fact that FANS care allows some of these fat owners and idiot prima donnas to earn enormous sums of money for something that most of did (do) for free.


    November 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      Mo, you're so right. Why is it that when these negotiations are going on, they all seem to forget that all of their money comes from the fans?

      November 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Terry

    This is a god damned travesty to even be on a news site. These NBA 'stars' are the biggest bunch of worthless human beings money CAN buy. Get real. You want to know what your fans think when there are combat vets, displaced workers and college graduates FIGHTING for their next meal or food for their familys? Come on, hand me that contract. I just ran out of toilet paper.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • kdm0828

      Well said, couldn't agree more

      November 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ross

    They are arguing about who gets all the extra revanue, and never a word about lowering the price of the tickets!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Strange1

    Honestly who cares?

    November 15, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jay Rock

    Not only are they ruining the fan support by instigating a meeting about money, they are selfishly destroying the economy as well by not giving the -single broke mother of 3 a job behind the concession stand to support her family- situation. What kind of people are they, so into them selves they want more money by killing off the life support of the economy. What is Detroit, Cleveland and New Orleans going to do to create jobs when they just took away thousands nationwide. Stern needs to grow some serious gadgets and get the NBA moving, I am sure the NBA and the owners and bypass the players union and find replacement players with open tryouts... that will scare off these greedy idiots.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. tim

    Time to screw the owners.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. rplat

    To heck with it, who needs basketball . . . cancel it completely and forever.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Eric

    I won't be happy until the season (at least this one if not more) is canceled and ESPN and CNN stop making it a top story every day. BooHoo, no NBA, ballers out of a job. I do feel for the little guy getting the shaft because rich people can play together nice, but most of those are minimum wage jobs, and there are plenty of those around.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sal Alosi

    I haven't watched urban ball in years, and I'm an avid baseball and football fanatic.
    It just doesn't translate well on TV and its boring as hell.
    I don't think most people give a crap.
    I hope it never comes back.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
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