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. joe

    Kill it all.....who cares about these pompous A–H-S?

    November 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dollarsigns

    What is there to argue about? You dribble balls for a living, to ENTERTAIN us regular folks. If that doesn't pay enough, enjoy waiting with the rest of us in the unemployment lines. Man up already and play some basket ball. You fools could have it SO much worse.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dollarsigns

      Once again, we live in a RECESSION. Maybe instead of buying up fancy second or third beach house and cars you don't even need. You should use the money your already making and SAVE it for medical and retirement. We treat these players like children, what do you think is going to happen? An average player still makes well enough to get by without all the extra accessories.

      November 15, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Josh

    No Basketball Anymore...

    November 15, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Another Earth Quake

    These sports are a waste of time anyways. What do people get no personal benefit. It's better then don't waste their time with such useless activity.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. WOW

    if we could all just stop and thing for a second. both owners and players make millions and billions. most fans are jobless, live paycheck to paycheck. and we let them occupy what little free time we have that would be better spent with our families and or doing some type of community service to better our youth. were the fools, so lets keep putting food and toys on their table of PURE GREED.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. lakawana

    That's 4 billion that will be spent somewhere else. Maybe for something useful...

    November 15, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. matt simpson

    Who cares about these IDIOTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Let them TRY to find a REAL job!!!!!
    It won't happen!!! These IDIOTS will sell drugs!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • BREEZE

      Yeah Matt, to you and your ugly sister. lol.

      November 16, 2011 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
  8. matt simpson

    They are ALL THUGS!!! Good Bye You THUGS!!! GO TO JAIL!!!!!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • You Are A Prejudice Idiot

      90 percent of the people on this forum are idiots so what if the NBA players make millions of dollars its called paradox value A Rod and Peyton manning also make millions of dollars but no one is calling them thugs ( probably because they are white and most NBA players happen to be african american) not many people could dunk like lebron or hit a home run like A Rod so they are paid large portions of money this goes back to the law of scarcity and paradox value why don't you guys go back to economics 101 before you guys post complete trash. Also NBA players give back to the community (probably more than any other major sports league in this country) through a program called NBA Care. For those of you who complain about the economy and not having a job stop complaining maybe you should of got a damn education and and did something with your life.

      November 15, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • BREEZE

      Maybe in a cell next to your drunken dad lol

      November 16, 2011 at 7:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. David

    Trash it all, take the 4 billion dollars and invest it in the world hunger problems. Invest it in something that could actually change the world. Just my 2 cents worth...

    November 15, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. richard

    We need to get a life. Basketball can go away and most people would not miss it but the billonare and millionare owners and players. They should get out in the real world and work for a living. i for one will not watch basketball agian.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. John

    Come on i bought tickets for the first game .I guess thats not happining

    November 15, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TheMann

    God NO ONE CARES ABOUT Basketball..AND no one cares about a season.Hope is goes away for good.I would rather watch paint dry,and cut my grass with nail clippers than watch this Stupid boring sport...

    November 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ralph

    If it wasn't for the NBA there would be alot of 7 foot janitors around.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Greg

    Overpaid Prima Donnas! You signed a contract and the owners OWN you! I will NEVER watch another NBA game as long as I live!

    November 15, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Gary

    That's what the greedy get in the end – NOTHING.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
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