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

    What the players association don't seem to realize is that the owners may have been influenced by the political gridlock the Tea Party and the GOP are creating in Washington. Perhaps the owners met behind closed doors during the off season and said hey, the Tea Party and the GOP are having things their way by stalling progress and maybe if we were to do the same, the players would eventually give in and agree to less. But anyway you look at it, it is indeed pathetic especially when everyday Americans are struggling to make ends meet.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Lafunda

      Really? You're going to try to sell your dim-witted political tripe in a sports story. You must live a very sad existence. While you've brought up a political point why don'tr you explain to the class why the major media isn't covering the Solyndra story where Obama's people emailed the company to tell them to withhold layoff information until after the 2010 midterm elections?

      November 16, 2011 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
    • RealDeal3

      Dude, You are an idiot! This has nothing to do with politics, and your views are one of the reasons our country is so divided. Get off your high-horse and realize that the NBA owners are losing money in most markets and something needs to be done to curb this before there are only 4 teams in the NBA. The players are incredibly greedy in this case. Stern just wanted to make the best deal for both parties (which both didn't like) and now we are looking at no NBA.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  2. thetruth!

    greedy punks! what they want 20 more cars ?!!! I

    November 16, 2011 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
  3. YardApe

    These guys make so much money, and now they want >50% to themselves? The ratio of players to event staff, coordinators, marketing people, and everyone else involved in NBA basketball is huge. For them to want that much money to play a game is appalling. Yes, they're entertainers (even though I hate basketball) however what they're doing today is ultimately going to kill professional sports by driving prices of concessions and tickets so high that no one will want to go to the games anymore and will put a bitter taste in people's mouths.

    The MLB strike significantly damaged the viewership of pro baseball and I think the NBA is going to suffer the same consequences. The NBA is not nearly as popular as the NFL, so a copycat move the very same year is pretty apparent. Good luck to them after an agreement is reached.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeff B

      The players have a pension fund? Most of us have a 401k plan, if we're lucky. Did I read this right, that there are 6-figure checks per game? I don't know what the average is, so maybe the reporting is a little skewed. It seems as if some of that could be invested every month and maybe a less fancy mansion or another car found to be not necessary. There has to be some reason here. Personally, I don't care if there is no basketball this year. I don't care if there are no professional sports at all. They have all lost their luster in my eyes.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      "For them to want that much money to play a game is appalling."

      It's not as much that they want the money to play a game as much it is to let people watch them play a game. I don't care if pro basketball (or pro sports in general) disappears, perhaps the fans will get off their duffs and actually get some exercise rather than letting other people do it for them

      November 16, 2011 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. Tom Jones

    Hey, Larry, no one mentioned race of players. Maybe it's you that has the problem.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  5. ZRadcliff

    Why don't they both take 47% of the revenue and give the remaining 6% to charities. Seriously they're arguing over millions of dollars that none of them need. And while they do that, they're costing all the workers of the arenas and areas around their jobs, people who actually need the money. Someone should slap both sides. If there was ever something to protest... Rich men bickering selfishly over money. They don't care about anyone but themselves.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ken at the Lake

    Wow this just keeps getting better. I especially like the comment made a few minutes ago that reference all those out of a job, facing foreclosure. Bet there are some pretty good, common sense basketball players in that group that just did not have what it took to go to college, or even get scouted by the NBA. What you wanna bet they would love to get back in the game and play for a few grand. Wait, did I say "game" and " play " in the same sentence.?? Love watching college hoops, would not waste a dime on the the pros

    November 16, 2011 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. Honestly79

    Tell us how you really feel. Nevermind, the Germans, Czechs, Australian, Chinese, French, and Canadians that also play in the same league.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. JoeD

    Really? A 4 billion dollar business and the owners and players can not decide even a one year deal? The victim are the fans. We who purchase game tickets, jerseys, shoes, and other equipment. This is why professional sports suck, Greed. From now on the NCAA, NAIA and High School Basketball, is enough for this purist. Where kids play for a love of their sport. There is nothing more pure than a young player being pumped up by a stadium full of fans.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  9. BigDoggie

    If the players and owners all read through the comment sections of the articles on this mess, they might realize that they are not doing themselves any favors in the court of public opinion. I have a feeling it will take the NBA much longer to fully re-engage their fanbase once this gets settled than it took the NHL and MLB after their labor issues. That they are doing this in these very trying economic times is just an even bigger slap in the face for the fans. Sucks for the "little people" that rely on the games for their income (concession workers, arena employees, parking attendants, merchandise salespeople, etc.). When they do deem it worthy to bring their spoiled a$$es back onto the court, the fans need to make a statement of their own right back at them by sticking with college or high school basketball or whatever they use to fill the void during the duration of the standoff. Then we'll see if guys like Brad Miller can make over $12,000,000 a year!

    November 16, 2011 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
  10. JllyGrn

    How about the money they can't decide over give to the Stadium workers. That would be a nice pay raise for them. I honestly think any pro athlete makes way too much money. I think 1 mil should be the cap.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  11. LameNBA

    the NBA still exists. wow. did not think such a lame ass organization still has fans. I'll stick with the college version. much more excieting. bunch of millionaries throwing a ball through a hoop.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  12. 2true

    How disgusting. They are already overpaid and you can probably count on one hand the ones that give back to their communities or charities. They are rich, spoiled loosers.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dude

    Everyone go back to playing as usual. Get all the people who make a living in concessions, security etc back to work. Until both sides come to an agreement, all the profits will go to help the poor, cure diseases, refinance homes, fix roads and bridges . . .

    Just kidding, you're worth more than 12,213,231,523,235,653,131.27 a game, hold out!!!

    November 16, 2011 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
  14. JOE


    "Since you brought up the political point" why don't you explain how the GOP has ran this country into the ground with their failed and misguided foreign and domestic policies? To be exact, two unpaid wars, an inflated national deficit, alot of dead American soldiers and the worst economic crisis in America since the Great Depression. And why don't you explain how your Tea Party is dividing and trying to return America back to the Jim Crow era with their blatant bigotry and racism? Rightwing extremist Idiot!

    November 16, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  15. chicagok

    I quit watching the NBA over 10 years ago. When you need to wear padding to play basketball, something is wrong. When the number of tattoos per inch increase one knows that the IQ decreases. The rules should be changed. Put a chain fence around the court and give each player a chain and a knife. Let them play to ....

    November 16, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
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