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. johnny popper


    November 16, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • tom

      i second that

      November 16, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  2. DYBO

    Let the tattooed spoiled criminals go out and find a real job.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
    • SNE

      You are a complete moron. Why and how can you make these invidious generalizations? Grow up.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      This IS their 'real job". Does the money they can command make you jealous?

      November 16, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • mh916

      Playing basketball is not a real job. I agree with you DYBO.

      November 16, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ticklemeelmo44

    The NBA or the American love of vulgar, greedy people makes about as much sense as consuming one's own feces. Each sports fan manufactures this same scenario [every season] when they continue to sell their souls for a seat to watch others get rich, doing nothing. Pitiful little country and its inhabitants. Mmmm, something smells good; me hungry.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  4. what?

    please put them back to chasing that little ball or gas station robbery will start to climb again.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Nipsey

      Like they say, you can take them out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of them.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Nadbash

      Please keep your neolithic fear of other races to yourself. The rest of us are trying to continue evolving and your noise is distracting us.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      ^ Don't recall him mentioning race. Literacy, it's important.

      November 16, 2011 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. rookiekool

    Though I agree that the NBA players like all sports franchise are a bunch of greedy multi-millionaires who do not appreciate success – but the hate mail out here regarding the NBA is astounding.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
    • skinsfan

      You can understand why. Millions of people are out of work and NBA players are making millions and are striking for more!! You think these players may be a little out of touch with the real world?

      November 16, 2011 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      It's astounding?

      Jameer Nelson posted something online about they're doing this because its in their best interest, and the owners were screwing them. He then posted a picture of his Bugatti Veyron about 5 minutes after. Poor guys. Feel bad for em.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  6. skinsfan

    Nobody cares except for the players and owners. I hope they do loose the season. These spoiled brat players should have to get a real job like the rest of us and see how truly fortunant they are. You get paid 10s of millions of dollars to play a game and it's still not enough. The occupy folks should occupy NBA arenas! There is where you'll find real greed!

    November 16, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  7. CouldWeBeSoLucky

    Today's NBA is not worth the effort that has been expended to keep it going. If the league would fold, maybe college players would finally see the advantage in staying in school and getting that college degree. Hey, spring training is just around the corner!!!!!!

    November 16, 2011 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
  8. Chuck

    Hmmm... replace them all with guys who can play as well who would be happy to take much lower salaries!

    November 16, 2011 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. Larry

    Wow. A lot of stereotyping and racial comments in this forum. Very sad. We've got to stop all the hate. It's no good.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jim

    Bring in the scrubs - it'd probably be more enteraining anyway

    November 16, 2011 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  11. Gord Brody

    Search for "Baseketball" on Wikipedia. 'nuf said. That sport would actually be entertaining to watch.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  12. Nadbash

    Meanwhile in the real world, people who are barely getting by on their tragically low paying jobs are pumping both disgustingly overpaid parties with the money they're so childishly fighting over.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  13. SNE

    Wow. As long as these guys are playing for your teams and representing your cities, they are golden. However, the minute that there is issue or impropriety, you turn against them and make all kinds of borderline racist remarks. "Racism is still alive, they just be concealing it" – Kanye West

    November 16, 2011 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  14. mitchell abrams

    I think players are perceiving tweets as cash flow. Their biggest fear should be that the corporate season ticket dollar, the backbone of the games cash flow will simply flow in a different direction. Tweets are free.Their impact comes from their association with the NBA. Check out the tweet activity of the Harlem Globetrotters. And their cash flow.
    Further, the owners and the NBA handlers of the game came to realize that, unlike the old cliche that the inmates are running he asylum, Miami proved that the players are really running the game and ballplayers doubling as GM's is the harbinger of things to come.
    They think they are taking the game back. What both parties are doing is exposing the lack of substance of the NBA product. The college game will thrive while the NBA flounders. Tweet that.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  15. Krow

    End guaranteed contracts and I bet the rest would fall into place.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
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