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. Greg

    neither owners or players care for the fans. people are suckers to follow a bunch of mercenaries.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • blackestblack

      I think rich fu cks would be more descriptive than mercenaries.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nathan Bedford Forrest

      Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of Basketball, would be doing flips in his grave if he knew these knee grows got too big for their britches.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. dexter224

    Yeh ok, anybody talkin about the real folks hurting. You know the women and men that work the food stands sell the programs,ushers etc... probably for min. wage? Nope just a bunch of rich spoiled brats on both sides of this story.
    Very sad

    November 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. s kel


    November 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Too Funny

    Libya needs peace keepers guys.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Fedup

    I am so fed up with professional athletes whining about how hard they work and they don't make enough money. Wah wah! I cannot afford to take my family to a game of any professional variety. I have worked with professional athletes and they all bleet the same story; " our careers are very short, we need to make a lifetime of income in those productive, sporting years. Well, you know what? We all have to work until retirement age, I'll assume 65, to be so bold. Pro athletes seem to make it until about 32 or so. Then, hey, here's a thought, GET A REAL JOB LIKE THE REST OF US!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisu

      My words and thoughts exactly....thanks for stating it so well.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dawn

      So agree with you! I am so tired of hearing them whine whine whine. Most of the population has to actually work for a living and they should be no different. I do feel that athletes have abilities that most people do not possess but in no way should they be earning the amount of money they get. The wrong people are being paid the big bucks. What about our military men & women who put their lives on the line to protect these "players". They should be making more money then these crybabies. Are the players and owners even thinking about the people who run the food stands, the janitors, and the souvenir stands? Those people need to go back to work to help support their families but because of the greediness in the sports world, they are not though of!

      November 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jason

    Nobody cares about basketball, time to end the silly NBA. It has to be one of the most boring sports ever, and I thought golf was boring to watch.

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

    As I understand it, part of my cable TV bill goes to the networks who have a contract with the NBA for rights to televise games. So when the NBA season gets cancelled, when can I expect to see a reduction in my cable bill?

    November 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. caw

    Excellent. I say good riddance to the NBA. Basketball is a very stupid sport that teaches the wrong values, When intentionally causing fouls is a GOOD thing and an advantage to the losing team, it sends the wrong message. Has anyone really thought how bad of an idea it is? How would football be if a losing team could foul the offense as soon as they get the ball and the foul forces them to kick a forty yard field goal thus giving the ball back to the losing team?

    November 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dan

    Wow, and nobody cares. These NBA players are more than welcome to hang it up and flip burgers. At least that would be a respectable career.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. blackestblack

    based on those pics on cover of CNN blacks should start calling themselves lips, as its a more noticeable trait and accurate description most of the time.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rob

    GOOD RIDDANCE!!!! I would love nothing more than to see these guys 5 years from now flippin' burgers for minimum wage. The fact that these guys even get paid a tenth of what they do is sickening. They do nothing to further society, nothing constructive except build their own egos and bank accounts. Meanwhile hard-working people are getting paid peanuts to do jobs that actually matter and make a difference!

    I hope this brings the NBA to it's knees.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Richard Braswell

    On second thought, if the players want more of the profits, I'm for them. BUY THE TEAMS BOYS. Deal with the owners like men, buy the team from them, change the rules to suit whatever you want, wear different uniforms, get better deals from the broadcast networks, recruit whomever from where ever you want, but stop crying about it.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Thomas Young

    At this point I wish i could muster up enough concern to say i care. To many other sports to watch. They don't get it, they are not pivitol. Baseball and football are pivotal sports, everything else is a throw in. Hockey will fill the void for anyone that likes watching sports. Blank the NBA. This comes from a person that has played a lot of b ball in his life and coached as well. College will fill in any voids as well

    November 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Penny Nickels

    I've already switched my allegiance to college basketball.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Simpleton

    Oh oh, now we got to get a real job.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
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