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. Luis

    This is beyond hilarious to see the bigoted, ignorant and myopic views being expressed here. Very few of you truly understand the dynamics and factors at play here, but are quick to condemn and judge based upon envy for men who work as professional athletes that make more than you. Sounds to me like each and every one of you are closet OWS supporters bemoaning how the rich get richer in ANY field of employment while you struggle to make ends meet... unless of course, you simply dislike the players because they're "different" than you?

    November 15, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Luis Whoo

      Myopic......what are you an optometrist....Not wait your sound like one of those dumb azz players who say thier contributing to the economy by spending thier hard earn (yea right) cash buying luxury items off over the world. Guess want drugs and women dont contribute to the GDP of any country....We'll other than the NBA and Players association bankaccounts and thier lawyers who are raking in the bucks....

      November 15, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Luis

      Bigoted, bitter, envious and ignorant. Describes your reply. Thanks for proving my point! Have a great night!

      November 15, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julie in Austin

      That's not it at all - the players and owners are both playing a really sickening game that =is= based on greed, to the detriment of the fans.

      Now, you might think fans are a bunch of "whiners" or closet "OWS members", but fans are the customers and all money in any business comes from the customer. I don't watch a lot of professional basketball, and living in a city without a team, I don't attend but once a decade, perhaps. But my watching basketball on television provides ad revenue that eventually goes to players and owners. And the way things are going, I'm likely going to stick to catching college ball whenever I can.

      November 16, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Luis

      And yours is one of the few posts that displays your dismay and disgust in a civilized manner. I too am annoyed beyond belief since I do enjoy basketball, and realize that both sides are engaging in a high stakes poker game, hoping to bluff their way to a victory, but the real loss will come at the expense of the money they would have generated for this season. To top it off, this past season and postseason was one of the best in quite some time. The level of talent on many teams has made it so no clear team is a favorite to win it all anymore for the foreseeable future, yet they've squandered that intrigue. I have yet to see many posts here of people who realize this. Instead it's who cares, college ball is better (matter of opinion, but the edge goes to professionals over amateurs), the league is filled with blacks and I don't like blacks (Excellent observation, both of the league and your prejudices. Of course we'll ignore the fact that the winning team this season showcases a European white guy), they're all just thugs (Again with the racial stereotypes), and they're paid way too much to bounce a ball and that's not a real job (They're part athlete, part entertainer. Welcome to professional sports in a free market! They also are the best of the given profession for what they do, so they get paid to do what you and I can not. Kind of like every other job.). That is my general complaint here.

      November 16, 2011 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      Luis: I could have not said it better.

      November 16, 2011 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  2. jack

    I hope management and the players enjoy dividing 51% and 49% of zero this coming season.

    November 15, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jacksonville Mac

    They might as well tank this season and prepare for the 2011-2012 season. I myself wouldn't want to see another abbreviated season like the year the Spurs won in 1999. I'll just wait patiently for March Madness. (becaus I don't watch regular season men's college basketball)

    November 15, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Brian

    Its ok I think they all need to make 0 dollars this year the NBA is a joke

    November 15, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Brian

    Bring in the scrubs that want to play and get rid of the current whiny baby nba players

    November 15, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julie in Austin

      Scabs. The word is "scabs".

      November 16, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Bec

      Exactly. If they don't want to work, there are thousands of others who would love to work.

      November 16, 2011 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      sure, there are thousands of people who would want the work, but will will people want to watch them?

      November 16, 2011 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      sorry for the stuttering

      November 16, 2011 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
  6. mary

    these NBA players are whiny babies The NBA is a joke they need to live paycheck to paycheck to see how the real world lives

    November 15, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • rick

      why should they life paycheck to paycheck when fans make their profession fantastically lucarative? if people want less money to be in basketball, perhaps they should consider not: 1. going to the games 2. watching it on TV 3. buying licensed gear

      November 16, 2011 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  7. SeattleMike5

    If David Stern could be ousted, it would make up for something at least. Maybe a new commissioner would make the NBA less of a circus side-show with fake fouls and pre-annointed "winners".

    November 15, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Maltese Falcon

    People in some urban areas are probably losing interest in basketball because of its connection with Dictator O'Bama.
    It's a segregated sport which does not allow "white people" (their terminology).

    November 15, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • BREEZE

      Blame the owners for not hiring whites. the league is mostly owned by white folks.

      November 16, 2011 at 7:26 am | Report abuse |
  9. cj bankrupt

    While NBA players and Owners will have no problem making ends meet without a basketball season, the real world that earns a living supporting basketball will not only be able to make ends meet, but ends won't even be able to see each other from a distance in todays economy.

    November 16, 2011 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. College Basketball Junkie

    If the NBA folded and never played another game.....ever.....I wouldn't lose a minute of sleep over it. The owners and players are fools thinking that people care about their product.

    November 16, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  11. Robert, San Ramon

    I have one word for this mess -ARBITRATION – based on the the recent NFL negotiations and many other examples of sports enterprises not being able to decide how to share their millions (if not billions) it should be easy to see the value of a neutral third party. Many contracts are written to default to arbitration as a last resort to avoid litigation. Considering the public interest, stadiums and franchises subsidized with tax payers money as well as businesses dependent on a full season, I believe all sports contracts should include an arbitration clause. If that were the case we would be watching basketball tonight and not one owner or player would have anything to complain about. The players and owners should know that what they are losing they will never get back and all they are accomplishing is to make some rich layers and fat union bosses very happy. RD

    November 16, 2011 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. Rhookie

    No Trading System In The World Is Superior To The Secret Code....
    Try Not To Let The Crabs Bring You Down, Because They Will Try Their Best To Do So....
    Ready To Join The Financial Revolution Yet?....Google oil trading academy.

    November 16, 2011 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  13. GregorMcgreggor

    If the NBA started with D-league players I'd still watch it. There are so many kids out there that are just as good as these "professionals" and they don't get a chance. The only thing that makes players famous is the media coverage they get. 1 month of a NEW NBA and everyone would say "Fisher who?" ... "Rajon who?" ... "Russel Westwhat?"... Lebron would take a couple of months but still... I watch a ton of NBA games and sure the players are entertaining... but so would my out of shape uncle vs. my dentist in a court... start fresh, instill a perm salary cap... and bam problem solved, if u dont like the pay, find another job... go play in Turkey.

    November 16, 2011 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
    • WayToGo

      I like your common a lots... If the employee does not want to work, then hire someone else.

      November 16, 2011 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
  14. bigwilliestyles

    All you white guys disrespecting the NBA players and trying to pretend its not racism: look out back; see that skinny little white kid shooting free throw after free throw with that Dirk Nowitski jersey on? Him, and others like him, only see the greatness of the NBA game, and he's hoping to be the next Nowitski; he's following his dream. And guess what? I hope he makes it. They need more quality white players in the NBA, if only so some of you hateful, sub-par losers can be happy that most of the best players in the world are no longer Black.

    November 16, 2011 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
  15. billy james

    American greed.

    November 16, 2011 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
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