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. s kel


    November 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Robert

    Maybe they'll be forced to sell their diamond earrings

    November 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. alex

    I have no sympathy for millionaires who aren't happy with the millions they make already and just want more, more, more. I'm no fan of Basketball and a year of not seeing it in the channel listings won't affect me in the least. What does bother me, is that none of the millionaires, on either side of the argument, gives a crap about the fans or the thousands of people who won't have a job because of no season. From the production crews who shoot games to the soda sellers and people who clean the arenas. All those people will get screwed out of a season of work, all because some millionaires wants more millions, and the guys who should be playing the game for the love of it, only play for the $$$. To be honest, I'd rather watch High School basketball than a pro game any day.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Pedro

    NHL is loving this!
    Watch some hockey and be entertained. Some of the North American born players ever to play the game are currently in the NHL, and contrary to what many believe, it's not all fighting (but when there is one, at least it's real).

    November 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • CaptainJack1

      Gotta agree with you, the NHL is great entertainment and those who don't agree probably just haven't given it a chance.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. conoclast

    RIP the NBA season - and good riddance! Who wants to watch a bunch of whining over-paid thyroid cases anyway?
    The players and owners with their frat-rat egos deserve each other! Think I'll learn to like hockey this winter.

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

    Occupy NBA.

    Join the movement.

    One voice<many voices

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

      I like this.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Corey

      Occupy NBA!!! HELL YEAH!!!

      November 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Corey

      HELL YEAH!!!

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

    Would anybody really miss this boring league of prima donna's. Cancel the season and its good riddens

    November 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Too Funny

    How can one not feel sorry for these guys. Just look at the picture with the article, a purported rapist and a clown who dissed a whole city on national tv. I am going to take money out of my savings to help them survive this.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. bigwilliestyles

    I love basketball. The most exciting sport on earth. Now what? Baseball? Yaawwnn. Hockey? Yeah, a bunch of illiterate hicks fighting with fists, feet and clubs (sticks) to put another piece of hard rubber in a net, then drop dead at 50. The players should state their own league and eliminate a bunch of old men that contribute NOTHING to the game. Let them go get hockey franchises.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. confused

    Successful entrepreneurs work 60 plus hours a week 52 weeks a year creating products and jobs are criticized for making a million or so a year. Players receive millions for playing a two hour game and half the time they are sitting on a bench.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bigwilliestyles

    Plus, we can eliminate those NBA affirmative action programs that are the ONLY reason 99% of the white guys are on the roster at all. Now that's a fact jack.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bro

    TNT ought to broadcast condensed reruns of classic NBA games featuring Bird, Magic, Dr. J, Dominique, the Chuckster, MJ, and many other former stars. Broadcast those games and I doubt sports fans will much miss the current NBA season.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jeff

    Yipee! None of that annoying "March Madness" interrupting every network as if the entire nation spins which group of overpaid men win a child's game. Penn State has effectively proved that America's sports obsession is really out of hand.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joel

    I hold court level Lakers season tickets. I'll be quite happy to not have to pay for any games this year. Please don't settle this, guys.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert


      November 15, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tom

    I'm with the players on this. The real ones with the money are the owners of the NBA, they make billions, the players only make millions. I say without the players there is no NBA.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Players can be replace overnight. On the other hand, players would take years to come up with arenas to play.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
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