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. mike

    Get paid upto $500 a week !

    Apply Now at

    November 15, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Stryder1723

    Who cares. The NBA is boring!!!! I'll take March Madness over the NBA any day. Don't see how the players will win in court. Hey judge, LeBron left the team that drafted him and offered more money. So they can't say it's about the money.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Throwemout

    Throw them all out and move the college kids up! There are plenty of people who would do what they do for less.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      AGREE! Require players to have a 4 year degree plus 3.75 GPA

      November 15, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • JD

      You can watch the college players play now. We like the pros more cause they're the pros. They are the best players in the world. Moving some kid up from Syracuse is not like watching LeBron. NIce try!

      November 15, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      4 yr. degree? 3.75 GPA? Then I'm afraid you'd just have a bunch of white and Asian guys out there on the court.

      November 15, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Throwemout

      They sure don't act like pros. At least the college kids play with a little heart. Lebron sucks. Yeah, poor players get a pay cut. Gosh. May not be able to afford that 16th BMW they have sitting in the garage the size of an airplane hanger. I don't think either side deserves to be listen too. I don't see much kick back to the community or city for the taxes that go into the arena's that are built except a signed ball or jersey to someone every so often. That will do a whole lot of good for the community when every city in the nation is bankrupt right now. You aren't going to convince me that either side needs that much money to live on when people are giving their lives for our country and to protect the citizens of their communities every day and barley making rent.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    I read to the part where the players said they are being decline their right to work and earn a paycheck, Um they are making millions and are declining to play because they want more. Greedy greed to play a child's game. They sure do represent themselves well in their red hoodie sweatshirts.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • JD

      Stupid A$$! They are fine with the way things were last year, not asking for more. Did you even read the article? The owners want to change the way the money is split. The rest of you idiots blaming the players as if you would be happy if your job cut your wages by fifteen percent while the company is making more money than ever. Get a clue people.

      November 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Russ

    big deal, sit for a season. heck sit for two, the more the merrier! NBA has a bunch of overplayed players, reduce their salaries by 30% and then make them suffer.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Grim Reaper

    They're all a bunch of whining babies. The billionaire owners and their corporate welfare they extorted from every corner of government and the millionaire cry baby players that have absolutely no other marketable skill. Let the league die.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Michael

    Let NBA die, it's absolutely in sane what these players get paid. Let them try to get a real job or to try and collect unemployment.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rick

    I'd rather watch HS basketball than the NBA – will not miss it if it disappeared forever.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. tyrone da. negger

    cmon neggars

    November 15, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mike in SA

    Turn down a 50/50 split? Stay unemployed...I will never watch another NBA game as long as you cry-baby millionaire players and owners are still around.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. uhhhhexcuseme

    Time for a reality check. The NBA is a proven product that generated $3.8 billion in total revenue in 2009. The core of that product is the players who compete in the games. That's what the fans pay to see: the players. Regardless of your personal opinion of the NBA itself, there's no denying that being an NBA player is an extremely specialized job within a highly lucrative enterprise. It's far more likely that the average person could someday make millions as the CEO of a corporation than make millions on an NBA roster.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. gordon motta

    Our Country is in real trouble. Many people can't pay their bills. 9.1% unemployment. Thousands of people have lost their homes. We owe $15 trillion dollars. Let me get this straight. Some of these players make $20 million dollars a year, most make $7 million . They make all this money for putting a ball in a basket. Now, they want more. Give me a break. I hope they all lose their jobs and have to work like the rest of us. I love basketball, but from now on I will be watching college ball. These jerks can all go to a different country and play their game if that is what they want. I don't care what happens to them. They sure don't care about the general public.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bayousara

    Good Grief! Who cares about these never-do-wells? A bunch of spoiled brats (thanks to their coaches), uneducated, no future other than sports, in these times who cares! Send them to Kim Kardashian to make men out of them! Hee hee hee!

    November 15, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • BREEZE

      bayousara go suck on a crawfish lol.

      November 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. PFlores

    Let us boycott next yr.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Glenn

    I served my country for 22+yrs through Desert Storm, the Balkins, Iraq and Afghanistan and am seeing my small benefits slowly disappear under some upcoming budget cuts and these spoiled prima donnas are snubbing their greedy noses at their fans. Does anyone think that the players (or NBA) really care about the impacts or ordinary people–no. They live in a world of their own and don't care about anyone else except themselves. I'm sure most of them really go out of their way to help their communities without anyone (NBA or contracts) telling them to do it for the league and their image.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
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