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. SSampson

    After the babseball strike in the 90's... attendance dropped.... that being said, the players still demanded more and more money.

    I don't know (nor do I care) who is at fault, but I do know a bunch of people out there who work a lot more and make a lot less – These players are overpaid – so are the owners – it costs way more than it should to go to a game making it impossible for most people to see their favorite game live. Personally, I just wait until someone gives me tickets (that just makes me lucky that one of the Dr's at my wifes clinic gets me row 7 at the Staples Center)... but I wouldn't pay for seats –

    November 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jj

    Out of touch rich guys. Ain't that the truth.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      you mean isn't . ain't is slang

      November 15, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jason

    Greed. I'm sorry players, but you're simply employees. No other union group receives 50% of company profits. The game should go back to a salary. The owners should let the league dissolve and start new. If the players take them to court, take the lump, pay up and run it into the ground. Who let them unionize anyway?! Its a sport! The owners should set up trusts for whatever needs they players my experience. It is still a game! Cap salaries at $500,000. Lower ticket prices to an amount someone can truly afford without sacrificing something necessary. I stopped when Jordan retired. None of the over paid psuedo college grads come close to his level of play or maturity.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jenks

      Agreed – or should I just say "greed." These athletes are also disrespecting the generations of guys before them who played for the love of the game, not the bulge in their bank accounts and many of them forget the squalor from which they came. In my lifetime, I've seen tickets skyrocket to prices only the rich can afford and it truly disgusts me. This is nothing but a slap in the face. I'm done with the NBA. College ball is more exciting anyway.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • hatenba

      jason, most of them are not college graduated. They are a bunch of stupid ignorant uneducate high school drop out like LBJ

      November 15, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      my daughter is single

      November 15, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Andrew Reese

    Who cares. Football rules America, and nobody cares about the NBA, these players, or the greed that both sides have. The reality is that if they go away for 2-3 years, or even longer, most fans will not even notice. When they come back, they will lose 10-20 percent of their fans, which will hurt the owners more than the players...but the fans are who really get screwed and I hope that the fans disappear along with all of their salaries and profits. I would love to watch the whole leage fold. Most of the Billionaire owners could care less because they did not make their money from the NBA and most of their . The players only care because they want to "get theirs" and that stinks too. This photo makes me laugh though...they look like a bunch of disgruntled SEIU union workers. Unions destroy companies, and rarely, if ever, add value to the lives of the employees. The chief priority of a union is to enrich the union, not the employees.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. FelipeBR

    Good! Just kill it already

    November 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. theCruiser

    Greed greed greed Not a single positive comment about the NBA on here ... never have purchased a ticket to a NBA game... and now I never will.... Hopefully this one does the NBA in... Totally out of touch with the people who are trying to "make a living"... Spent years in the auto industry and we complained that workers making $30-$50 would fight the CBA process... At least they made something that was lasting and served a purposes... and now MoTown is making a slight comeback .... And now we have these clowns making $21 PER SECOND complaning.... These "ballers" make more in one game than my wife makes in a year... she is a school teacher trying to educate the next generation to be successful.....These "ballers" make more in one half than the bus driver who many of us entrust the lives of our children to everyday.....The "process" of disbanding should have started long ago... Disbanding of the NBA that is....We, as a nation, need to get our priorites in order... Tweet that

    November 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. j

    LOL! They used the word "clan"

    November 15, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      clan: noun: a group of people with interests in common

      what does lol mean

      November 15, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bryan

    Ah, now I see what the deal-breaker really is. It's not the 50-50 revenue split, it's the year-round drug testing!

    November 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. wharris

    Don't care.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      why post?

      November 15, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. joe s

    Please prolong the lockout. I can use less LeBron and more college ball.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. PJ

    This means more TV programs will be played. I hate Basketball on TV.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. truth

    Die hard NBA fan last year. it was a great season (watching LeBron fail was especially satisfying) with an even better playoff. When they do come back, it will be a long time before I come back to support them.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      exactly they need to open their eyes and realize that

      November 15, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. RIP Clyde Frog

    Do not comment 99%ers! You will not be able to understand what both sides are goin thru or arguing about

    November 15, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. carlo

    Good. The NBA is a joke.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      so much of a joke that i forgot to laugh

      November 15, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mrgmorgan56

    Cut all their pay by 99% or tell the greedy idiots to find another line of work.

    November 15, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      like what? most of them dont have a college education

      November 15, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
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