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. I hate the NBA

    Great. Now can we find an interesting sport to replace it with.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      Yes. Disc Golf. lets get that on the air. MUCH more entertaining than a defenseless dunkfest starring overpaid thugs.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      Disc Golf! That sounds like fun! Especially if every player has a canine caddy. Go get it, Frisbee Lips!

      November 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rudy Q Begonia

    I like this idea. Maybe even a bigger percentage to the cities. But that might make the players only be able to have 5 Ferraris. Hmmmm....

    November 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. s kel


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

    No mas, no mas

    November 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MikeT

    Fire every single player. Go around the neighborhoods and offer to pay those guys doing those 720 degree dunks on the hot asphalt of New York, LA, New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis and so many other places around our great country. Make an offer to those guys who play for nothing but heart and rep. Those guys who practice their art day and night, rain or shine, cold or heat, to hone their skills and then afterwards go to work at McDonalds or carrying your luggage at your local airport terminal. Offer to pay those guys $200k and watch a new level of NBA emerge – a game played for the passion not the money. Fire every one of those greedy, self absorbed, disease ridden, criminal, stinking, rat millionaire children and replace them with real men. The balls to say to someone...yeah, its your company, you pay all the expenses, you take all the risk, and I want 50% of the profits? Is this insane way of thinking the result of most of the NBA players barely finishing High School and being too stupid to realize how stupid they really are? FIRE THEM ALL.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Your point is valid. But lets say instead of NBA players we are talking about American miners. And instead of looking around the streets I look around for foreign immigrants. My workers are on strike, I agree to pay foreign immigrants 1/20th of their salaries, I come in and replace the workers.

      I'm not sure if this is no longer a valid point just because my workers make 7 figure salaries. From the perspective of the owners it is the same.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      I used the American miners example because it is a real event that actually happened.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • MikeT

      @Joe. The monetary dynamics of your argument doesn't scale. You cannot simply replace millionaire basketball players with miners who can barely make ends meet. The salaries of a mine full of workers is less than many basketball stars make in one two or three months. The miners will strike because their lives are being put at risk, their salaries as opposed to the risk to their lives is disproportionate. They emerge from the mines with lungs full of coal dust and drive to their trailer home in a 1982 Ford pickup and are happy to have that AND happy to put food on their tables. Miners are the salt of the earth who may not make a lot but are proud of the ability to put whatever food they can on their tables. Basketball players leave the arena in a $500,000 Bentley and go home on multimillion dollar mansions. Sorry, but you can't compare the two because the economy of scale doesn't work.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      To the Serbian Immigrant who is replacing the miner, people who have food on the table are living a high and mighty life as well. From the perspective of the owners, your living conditions of your worker are immaterial. If your operating costs for employment are 57% of gross revenue it doesn't matter if that is one person or a million people. Basically from the perspective of the owners, you are saying its valid to find someone who can do the job for cheaper if your current work force strikes.

      The living conditions of the workers is immaterial to the logic of your argument. If the workers are not ready to accept managements terms and conditions, you are saying its valid for them to find other workers. Lets say my workers now make $60k a year. Not a log in American terms, but in 3rd world terms its the life of a king. So from their perspective the $60k workers are in the same boat as the NBA players.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Also I forgot to clarify, this mining example occurred in Colorado in the times where pickup trucks didn't exist, and living conditions and GDP per capita were atrocious by modern day standards.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jan

    Hmm. I feel sorry for the vendors, I feel sorry for the maintenance staff, for all of those less lofty folk who really will feel the impact far more than any of these 'players and owners' will. I mean really, after you earn so much money, what's a little here or there? I think they ALL should take a HUGE pay cut so more people could enjoy watching the games. Just seems strange when you can earn more shooting hoops than risking your life to save others, like firemen. The whole professional sports scene has become obscene.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • dexter224

      Amen Jan

      November 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Panic Attack

    Personally I find this incerdibly clueless posturing far more enetertaining than NBA games. People, please do not settle.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      It is rather like a circus, isn't it? No shortage of clowns.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mb2bm55

    everyone has the right to negotiate for their rights at work. The players have a right to have at least some say in the long term of where they get to play. The owners can't just take free agency away from them entirely, remove the ability for vets to have opportunities later in their career and on top of all that demand a massive rollback in salaries (which the players have already agreed to). This Lockout is 100% the fault of the owners right now who are demanding far too much beyond the already agreed upon payroll split.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. tim

    i remember when the strike almost killed baseball, the same thing will happen to basketball when this is over with.just watch and see

    November 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      "Almost" only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. I remember the last baseball strike, too. Many sports fans cried foul on both owners and players, and vowed never to support them as fans again, but as soon as the dust settled, they rushed right out to renew season tickets. People are so fickle.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bravo

    Who cares now that College Basketball season has started? College players don't get paid, at least not monetarily and play for the love of the game, the games are always better then a bunch of overpaid greedy fools. To me, the NBA only exists to provide motivation to the college players to push that much harder, otherwise, the NBA is useless.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bobby

    The two sides are just perfect for each other. Hopefully, this will end Pro Basketball as we know it. Two greedy sides with too many toys but it is never enough. Cancel out each other.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Invicta 81

    With all of the REAL problems in the world going on right now, I just loss all respect for the idiots. They don't even have a real occupation! They get paid more than people that actually save lives! What a bunch a whiny, thoughtless jerks. I probably won't watch another basketball game for a long time.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sumerau

    Getting paid AT ALL to play a game the rest of us play for fun on the weekends? And then stomping your feet and throwing a temper tantrum when it's not enough for that 3rd Porche? C'mon, get over yourselves already.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. s kel


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

    This is absolutely ridiculous. Professional sports players are some of the greediest people in America. How can you complain when you make hundreds of thousands of dollars per game, millions per season to PLAY a game, whether it be basketball, football, baseball, etc?!? There are Americans that WORK 12 plus hour days for less than $50,000 per year and are GRATEFUL for having a job. I would fire each and everyone of these players and offer their spots to some of the unemployed Americans in true need. Might not be as enjoyable to watch but at least those individuals would be grateful to get paid to play a game for a career.

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