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. Aaron.Z

    Seriously these guys make enough money already as it is. I don't even care about basketball in the least but it's still pathetic that people are paid millions to dribble a ball, sink it through a metal ring w/ a net, and then do it over and over again, dozens upon dozens of times in a 2 hour stint on a 50 ft long court. Same goes for NASCAR... you get paid millions for taking left hand turns all day. Both are just as boring as the other and contribute nothing to the betterment of our society.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • ComSenseWiz

      The pot of cash the owners and players are fighting over comes from fans who:
      – pay the ridiculous prices to watch at arenas
      – watch on TV jacking up the ratings
      – pay gouge prices for NBA merchandise

      The solution is to not pay the applicable costs. Then the owners and players will be fighting over chump change. One aspect of this situation is that these owners and players are not getting a dime from this sports fan because bling ball no longer interests me and has not for at least a decade. If more did the same, only then will incomes of players and owners become sane.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. John Kaufman, Oceanside, CA

    Greed is the mother of all cruelty. It's to bad that those who really love the sport have lost the essence of the game over the money. In the end this, the money, will be the undoing of the NBA, for greed will distroy its very existence.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. kennydo

    Commissioner Stern cancel the season already. This whole mess has put a bad taste in the mouths of so many people that the fan base is and will diminish quickly. As far as the players how much is enough? Guys you can thank Billy Hunter because he threw you all under the bus. The offer that will come from the owners will be much less ask the NHL players. You guys pride will not allow you to take a lower offer Goodbye NBA it has been a wonderful ride.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. bob

    screw the NBA i hope they never sort it out. bunch of overpaid thugs.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Gung Ho

    Why wait? Do America a favor and kill the NBA season now!

    November 15, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. David bierly

    Who cares....who really cares....greed, greed, and more greed...go, football and baseball will do just fine...the bottom line is the fans pay for all of it....

    November 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. FedUP

    Frankly, I am glad the season may be over. Paying under educated and ego inflated players who really provide very little to our quality of life and betterment of society so much money (which, unfortunately fans are willing to pay), seems like such a waste. Maybe they should reconsider their options and do something with the money they have made to make a difference instead of bemoaning the fact that they wont make an extra million or so. The owners could stand to take some of their egregious profits and funnel them back into society to help those less fortunate- like all of the employees who have been abandoned and now find themselves out a job and added to the 14 million that are still unemployed.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • J

      Amen FedUP! couldnt have said it better if I tried!

      November 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bet R N you

    I hope this is the first fallen domino in a series of falls of the over-hyped games called professional sports. These guys, unlike a professional, think only of themselves. I hope the season is cancelled; although a few would suffer (corn dog sellers), most fans would have more disposable income.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. gpa1tim

    Instead of sharing those billions with the players, they maybe should subsidise vendors at games to lower food prices and lower ticket prices. I think it would be a win for fans and vendor employees.

    If these people continue to be 'cry babies', then I really don't care if they ever play again.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rod

    Philadelphian how dare you make such a stupid comment! You know d-mn well opinions would be different if this was hockey. You are ridiculous for asking a question you know the answer to. I keeps seeing all these thugs this and thug that comments. All the players are not Thugs just like all Republicans are not stupid or racist. People pay to see these thugs but the real thugs are on Wall Street! They just dress better at work. The Thugs on Wall Street need to be locked out. Funny how people blame the players. When you are at work use a twist on Herman Cain's mantra. If you are overworked or under paid at work don't blame your boss or company blame yourself. lolololol. Becareful people use you same words about the players at your place of employment and think how that will work out for you lol.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • bambam

      We blame the playas because they're a bunch of ungrateful and overpaid brats! Without the owners they wouldn't have a league to play in, and they'd be out hustling on some asphalt court in the ghetto. This whole situation is absurd!!

      November 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. TJC

    look at all these NBA players playing dress-up acting like they are businessman/know what they are doing

    November 15, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bambam

    Bros need to get over their ghetto-fabulous narcissism!

    November 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mar

    Overpaid, spoiled brat blacks who have no worth than dripping a bag of air around. Please....
    I think most people would smirk if the NBA was totally liquidated and those blacks got booted right back to their ghettos.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. &

    It's such a priviledge to get paid just for playing a dumb game. If the NBA, NFL, MLB, etc. organizers didn't exist, the number of black millionaires would be more than cut in half. They should exercise some humility.

    November 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. bicycle kick

    MLS MLS MLS!!!!! watch soccer my friends

    November 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
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