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. descarado

    It would be a great breakthrough for the remnants American culture if the NBA were to disappear from the face of the earth followed by MTV, women-debasing rap, Oprah, "The View" and the boobtube in general.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • bolts

      In the grand scheme of it all; wall street, joblessness, unemployment, Penn State.....who really (I mean really) gives a crap.....both sides tubed themselves at the wrong time.....recovery....hopefully the end of the this league.......NFL gets it, MLB got it (in the nick of time), NHL getting it......NBA........hey hey hey......goodbye!

      November 15, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • SteveD

      Think of all the "bottom level"employees who's jobs are on the line. If both greedy sides had any human values left in them they would play the season for those people. All profits would go to charity while they settle their differences. They would win the support of the Public and be able to continue with the game they "love". Yea right!!!,

      November 15, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dude

    The players are millionaires, the owners are billionaires. I am working overtime shifts and side jobs just to pay my mortgage.

    So, when they wanted a new basketball arena, they made me pay for it in taxes. And I don't even get a discount on tickets to games or concerts there.

    The promised rent payments were made one time at a big photo opportunity. Three years later the owners were 35 months behind on payments and asking for us to pay for another sports facility.

    Hey NBA, you can go to heII for all I care.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dan

    It's curious that most of the comments attack the players' greed. What about the owners' greed? They are getting 7% higher cut of the pie, but it's the players who are greedy? What's up with that? It's okay for owners' to be greedy, but not the players'? Wow!

    November 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      It's not okay for either side to be greedy! It's sick what they are doing and not taking anyone but themselves into account. SO many people are effected by this but it's the millionaires and billionaires who are on TV and in the news complaining that the other side is not being reasonable. I am a big basketball fan but I hope there is huge fall out for both sides. The only bad part of that is the people who rely on the seasons and attendance are the ones who will suffer in the long run. I wish there was a way for what we all are saying to actually reach the players and owners. I wish they could see that what they are doing has horrible results on so many people. In actuality they( the owners and players) are not really losing much of anything. But this article states that some regular employees aren't going to qualify for health benefits because of this!?! That is sick. SO some poor guy or gals family member is going to have to suffer if they become ill all because these guys can't pull it together and play the game(A GAME) where they make hundreds of thousands even millions to go to work. It's disgusting on both ends!

      November 15, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • toddw

      Dan....the players work for the OWNERS,,,I dont think the players understand that? If the players dont like it.....then go start their own league and then they share the $$$ to whoever?

      November 15, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tom

    Eff you NBA...owners AND players.

    Buh bye, now, I think I'll go get a life!

    November 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      hahahahaha good one

      November 15, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. matt volkel

    These idiots have been paid SO much money, For what? So we can hear them complain? The "baby mommas" are even worse. I sure as hell can live without the NBA.

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

      i hear ya bro ski

      November 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      you are so right man

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

    I've been a season ticket holder for over 20 years in a small market town. What a bunch of selfish, dumb losers!

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

      why is your name spelled with a y

      November 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. stuart bishop

    conroy ginsberg stole my turkeys favorite sausage

    November 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Alex

    We should rightly see the Occupy movement as having influenced the Players decision. Don't buy into the Millionaires vs. Billionaires hype. It is about the power imbalance between bosses and employees. It is about owners who are essentially asking for a bailout and roll back of wages for their own failure to manage their business. It doesn't matter how much NBA players make–they are highly skilled workers who generate billion dollar profits for an industry. Of course, the wages they're fighting for will look higher. Would you say high-skilled tech worker or engineer relinquishes their status as working class because they make more than a Starbucks employee? Where do you draw the line with income? It's a hazy, lazy criteria. Workers are workers because of their relationship to their job and ownership. Not income. In fact, all unions can learn from player unions in what it means to have a backbone

    November 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • toddw

      your kidding me

      November 15, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Hooligan

    how about we go back to playing them NOTHING and remind them of why they played to begin with?

    "For the love of the game" seems to be lost on these knuckleheads

    November 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. nighttalk

    I just have to laugh...a bunch of mutants throwing a ball down through a metal they can afford the luxuries to which someone said they deserve...for their talent?...these a*****e*...are 7 feet tall...playing a child's game...gimme' a break...let them sit out the season...this is the most boring game man has ever created...maybe then they will have the time to get some new tats...more ink...or something equally as brainless...

    November 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hooligan

      it is far from a childs game... but yes they are indeed like spoiled children.

      November 15, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Hal

    I sure everyone knows who is hurting the most because of there pig-headedness are the stadiums and parking attendants and hot dog salesmen and so on.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. James

    Please end the season already. It is embarrassing to see these millionaire cry babies complain about getting 50 percent from their employer. In this economy???

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

    Your only skill is to bounce a bag of air around and as a bench warmer, you make heavy 6 figures. Please...... GTFO of here. I would smirk from ear to ear if these overpaid spoiled brats got their NBA disbanded.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Brolan

    No boring basketball clogging my TV. Best Fall ever!!!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. tim

    with no games to play or practice how will all those players stay out of prison with so much time on their hands.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
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