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. donklos

    VERY ignorant of the players. They have a player who is fading fast as a lead negotiator. His career is toast, over, finished. For players to turn down the deal that will take a complete year away from their playing days is the most insane thing I've ever heard of. This is not a 20 year career we're talking about. Taking a complete year away from a short playing career is just plain dumb. The players should be forced to pay the concessions people, ticket takers, and all the other season employees who rely on the league. They are screwing them royally. Selfish bas tards.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JtheSna

    The Players should all WALK and form their own league. Manage their own teams. Pay themselves out of their ticket sales. Do it NOW!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      That wouldn't work either. Then the players would argue amongst themselves about how they divide that money.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  3. John

    Discontinue watching games, discontinue buying tickets to go to games, and discontinue buying their merchandise. Hard to argue over no revenue at all.

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

    who cares? after the PSU debacle haven't we had enough of dumb jocks and their self-centered antics? I don't care if there's ever another game of any sort once someone leaves high school-grow up guys

    November 15, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jc free ludacris mixtape!!!!

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

    Bye bye rich, overpaid, no-talent except playing a kids game, gangsters! Good luck finding a real job that will pay you 1/100th what you are making now. You wont be missed except by rich people with nothing else do do with their money who can afford your ridiculously priced game tickets, beer, hot dogs, etc. Not going to miss you either NBA owners. Billionaires vs millionaires – you both suck. Try putting your kids through college on a middle class income. I cant stand listening to this!!!!!!!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Joe Ranger

    cancel the season and pro basketball in general. who cares.

    its not about championships, it's about $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

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

    Attention future pro basketball hopefuls "get smart!" we already know how hard it is to get into the NBA; and the hard work ahead of you whom choose to seek out basketball fame. Hence, once you're are in and making money; make sure you don't waste and buy that home you can fall back on when it's time to walk away. Don't set yourself up for failure and spend like a ROCK STAR! Those days my friend are in the past. Welcome to the new reality! Don't expect everyone around you to be trusted. Keep your circle of friends close, cause you will need them sooner than you think. As for the business of basketball; "learn all you can in the business if you hope to survive in it."

    November 15, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. SDFrankie

    Does anybody care? Anybody? Play. Don't play. Nobody cares.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Byrd

    So the spoiled millionaire players lose millions and the greedy owner billionaires lose billions. Nobody cares. There are much better places on which to spend those dollars and they'd know that if even a single one of them cared more for others than themselves. Fat chance.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sumguy

    What a joke.....these people do NOT need a union. Negotiate a contract individually like the rest of us and this would never happen, and the players would probably get a better deal.

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

    Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    NBA player = overpaid egomaniac

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


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

    These players look like a street gang and present "gang" behavior. Get over it. Do you want a job or not? Cancel the season. Let them sit out for a year, get fat and flabby, and get upstaged by a new crop of players who actually want to play.

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

    For me, all team sports could go to the toilet tomorrow and I wouldn't blink.

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