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. Leaf on the Wind

    The sad thing about all this is that it isn't just their lives that are affected. All the folks who work at the stadiums where the games usually take place are going to be out of work, and that's just a small part of the exponential damage these spoiled little rich boys will cause.

    On the up side, perhaps paychecks will fatten in the WNBA this season.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Hasselhoff

    once they realize the fans they've lost after this is all done maybe they'll think about how they could have solved this better. I think we won't see NBA for years.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • NoNBAfan

      I hope the league folds.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • marstomr14

      Agreed Hasselhoff...extremely poor timing with our current economic climate. But, Americans have pretty short memories so we'll see.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      ya that is so true the ship sails here

      November 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. scar

    You sign a muli-year contract worth millions to play basketball, even though you have no education and a probably dumber than a door knob. Then you kill the sport that pays you. The owners need to make the money to pay your salary, lease on buildings and a whole host of other things, including your retirement fund. Seems like the players are shooting themselves.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. skinsrock

    I didn't realize until recently how these percentages work & how they affect the salary cap... When they accepted to go from 57 to 50 pct, they are actually giving up 7% salary cap across the league & the owners want MORE (47%, possibly)... Also, the D League situation... If your a player with a contract & they start sending you to the D League, the salary changes to D League salary... It's hard enough for the 12th – 15th man on a team, now he's broke & worrying about his occupation? That just seems harsh & that is why the union has a problem... I hate the poor vs rich arguments... They are entertainers & they get paid to entertain... We don't hear people crying when Tom Cruise gets paid $20 million to do a movie that grosses $40 million... stop being jealous of something you can't comprehend unless you are an actual employee that has to live with the labor agreement... you have no idea what the long term effects could be ... I have no sympathy for the owners, because the players in this situation have more than met the owners half way.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. fastball

    C'mon guys...there's millions here. Your career is pretty short – and there's child support payments to be made.
    Do the math.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. wyfishdee

    Here's a thought. Each professional player should be required to "donate" $1million in hopes to recover from this large debt our country is in.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mommaearth

    Bassetball payers are a real dumb bunch these days.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Johnjon

    Looks like Maybach, Mercedes, BM, and Porsche sales goona be down this holiday season.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. augustghost

    No basketball? Best thing that could ever happen

    November 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Wally

    Solution: Have the players from each team buy the team from the owners. The owners will stop losing money, and they players will finally get to see the game from the other side. Employee ownership: what a concept!!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Paul N Destin

    Perhaps obama can start playing in the nba...he thinks he can play but that is about the end of his game.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      It was inevitable that sooner or later some cheese brain would bring politics into a sports comment thread. Congratulations, idiot.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BostonSteve

    Honestly, no one really cares whether there is an NBA season or not. Please end it already, we're all so sick of hearing about it.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. marstomr14

    I'm curious how many other industries have companies that share 57% of their Revenues with their employees.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      I don't get any, do you? I get my salary, period. And every day off the unemployment line is a good day.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Chris Maurice

    Our men and women in service must ask for 57 per cent of our defense budget. What are these greedy ponks doing anyway. The same old non sense running with the ball back and forth.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. reader10

    Pay them per game.Pay them when they win.Looser don't get payed.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
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