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. OregonMan

    Spoiled brats. Let them go jobless and see what its like.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laker Fan

      Amen brother. Who loses the most? Vendors and fans. Not these 1% ers. Fans don't forget how selfish these owners and players.are.. If they are able to agree this season or next, I won't be jumping for joy.

      November 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Forget the players. Forget the owners. I feel badly for the ticket takers, the consession workers, the ticket takers – the people who make the "little bucks" and who will be unemployed because the multi-millionaires can't settle a minor difference. Sorry, but this just isn't right or fair!

      November 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. fearlessdude

    I hope pro basketball goes away for ever. Whining men getting rich on a boy's sport.
    Support your local University or High School teams.
    Derek Fisher can go fishing.
    The same goes for pro football, pro baseball.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • dozidotes

      AMEN! I'm sad for the average people who earned a living through the NBA–the vendors, people who worked in the stadium, etc. However, the hole that will be left by the b-ball players is about the same as if one of them put their hand in a bucket of water and pulled it out...

      November 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    Who cares. These players would be working at McDONALDS if it weren't for the owners. Remember, the OWNERS were rich BEFORE they got these teams. They do it for the love of the sport, and to MAKE MONEY. Plus, after the whole "SLAVERY" bomb, racist charges, etc, I say to the owners: STAND YOUR GROUND. 40 million a year for playing a sport isn't enough??? COME ON PEOPLE>

    November 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • MykeTheVet

      I think you hone in on a good example.

      This entire country is in a DEPRESSION and BOTH SIDES are complaining about money.

      You know what could save the NBA this season and make a fan out of people again? Reduce all prices related to the NBA (tickets, vending, team gear, advertisement fees), employ cheap basketball players that are dying to play, and watch the MONEY ROLL IN like you've never seen before.

      To the people of our great nation: we've got more important things to worry about than the NBA.

      November 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. The Offended Blogger

    Good. Let's replace basketball with rugby, instead. It's sooo much more rewarding for us girls to watch, anyway. 🙂

    November 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. wm.

    this is ridiculous! both sides are so out of touch with the folks who actually pay their salaries & bills. sounds like they all would make good politiicans!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Paul

    It's a plot, by college basketball ticket holders. Imagine what those will be worth this year, since the bozo losers in NBA won't be playing!!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ratickle

    Please let it die. Pro basketball is the worst sport ever invented.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Andrew Hall

    I am so tired of pro sports I could spit.

    These guys have a RESPONSIBILITY to the country to act like a sports league, not a bunch of spoiled no-shows.

    I'd be more compassionate if I thought either the players or the owners were hurting. They're not.

    GET TO WORK!!!!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Styrian Arschloch

    I agree with them, you guys are millionaires, send the damn owners packing...wait it out. The greedy of the greediest trying to get a few more percentage points or profit.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. COMO ES?

    Please do us all a favor and just kill of the NBA for good.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bob

    I say screw you rich whiney babies. I say to anyone in any job, you're an idiot to refuse to work in this economy, especially when you're making millions. There are plenty of other sports to watch, and I hope the NBA permanently gets reduced viewership and attendance.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. AF612

    It nearly destroyed NHL hockey, it cost MLB baseball dearly for quite some time...and now the power struggle between NBA players and owners over who get's the most millions when people are strapped to keep houses, food on the table, schools are dropping like flies. There is a group of people that are oblivious to the reality of most people's day-to-day life and would be sickened if it was their reality. Sadly, I am a fan, but I would rather eat tainted tuna before I would support these "geniuses" again.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Steve

    How many arenas were financed with tax dollars, completely or partially? The owners have lost over $400 million so far for what? It is the players who give value to the owners, so make it 50 50 or 55 45 players/owners. Otherwise it is zip zip and a negative sum game. If the league uses replacement players, they will lose again. So everyone is a loser so far, venue and vendor employees, taxpayers, owners, players AND the fans.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. NoTicketsPlease

    Many of the players are in the 1%; all of the owners are in the 1%. Let them eat leather.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. clark1b

    I have an idea that will settle the matter. Instead of the 4 billion dollars being divided "fairly" between the owners and the players ... why don't they decrease the price of the tickets (giving back to their fans) by an amount that will equal 4 billion dollars over the next season?

    November 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
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