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. MykeTheVet

    Do any of you know how great it feels to be a Seattle fan right now? I think Tony the Tiger said it the best: "GRRRRREAT!"

    Hey Stern, what happens to a mafia organization that doesn't make money? They get TAKEN OUT. It's too bad that no one will go to the mattresses with you.

    Jokes aside. Stern, the owners, and 75% of the players will be financially okay.

    Now, America......let's talk about Ron Paul...

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

    "could" kill an NBA season? Let's be realistic here the season is already gone.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ed

    Rich biatches out of touch with reality is right!
    I hope Basketball is only offered overseas and never televised.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JIm

    Basket-what? I hope that we can replace the NBA with the NHL. Basketballers just end up as used car salesmen once they retire. Dingo's.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Well, actually they don't. You have to know how to add, subtract, AND sometimes multiply in order to sell cars. And, you have to actually listen to what OTHER people want, and find it for them. Maybe dish-washing?

      November 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      i dont know about the dishes their pwitty wittle fingers might cramp up real job my butt

      November 15, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Paul

    "Saaay man, I need a job for about a year. I'm taking kind of a temporary vacation." "Okay, what are your qualifications?" "Uh, I play basketball really well. And I love bling jewlry. So, can I have the job? Does it start at $800K per year?" (Dumbfounded silence)

    November 15, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      omg i cant stop laughing
      can u c lebron at a real job interview hahaha

      November 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. hillbilleter

    It's time the 1 Percent knew how little we worried about where their next $5 million is coming from. American children go hungry because their parents can't get even part-time manual labor, yet we're supposed to be concerned about the privileged few and their spats? I don't think so.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. tex

    Why do basketball players think they are gods gift to the world because they can throw a ball through a hoop with some accuracy? Besides, if you was making several million dollars a year, would you give it all up for just a little bit more? It is the American 90% (as opposed to 99%) that hurts from all of this. Think of how much all of the sporting companies and advertisers pay out to the NBA each year in order to pay these outrageous salaries and how much goods are marked up for the benefit of a select few who again, can throw a ball through a hoop and display good teamwork. Ha!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. sbpelletz

    To me this is simple. Go back to the very foundations of what made this country great. The free enterprise system. What makes ANYONE think they deserve 1/2 of what I own? The owners made enough money somehow to buy their teams...why does anyone deserve 1/2 of their proceeds. If they hire you, you work for them. If you don't like the wages, go work for someone else. Unions were created to make the working conditions safe and fair...not make you rich and to steal from those that have hired you.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jesse357

      I could not have said that better.

      November 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |

      Wow that was great, exactly what I was thinking.

      November 15, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen Bell

      That was prefectly said.

      November 16, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dave

    I think we have reached the moment where we as a people really need to consider how important (or unimportant) professional sports actually is in our lives. We can live without it. The greedy millionaire owners and players are really at our mercy. Without an audience, they cannot survive. It's time to show them they are a luxury in our lives that we can easily do without. Stop using your hard-earned money to support a greedy and out-of-control industry.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Agreed. When it's too expensive for an average family to pay for seats, $5.00 cokes, etc., then it's too expensive. People need to get out and do their OWN exercising instead of paying megabucks to watch these brainless primidonnas play their games. Two problems solved – American obesity, and previous basketball players could get REAL jobs – you know, washing dishes, etc... It's just ridiculous that anybody even cares about basketball this much!

      November 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cook

      Amen brother!

      November 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Soccer and Football

    What is NBA?

    November 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      soccer is my sport 2
      good one

      November 15, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |

    The players should battle it out with the owners. The owners are not the ones sweating, getting injured and traveling everyday to play the game. If the players let go 1%, next time it would be 10%, 20% and then minimum wage. The players should even demand 60 and then 40% to owners. Because the economy is bad does not mean that the greedy owners should try to pull this crap out on the players. To the owners, I say pay the players what they deserve or get your moms and dads to play the game period!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jeff

    Bunch of grown men throwing a ball, we do not reaily need this.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dan

    Great, hope it ends and the sooner the better, watch all the bling/girls/cars go away now! And we will see what they got in reserve no talent 7ft freaks!! LMFAO!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. PSU Alumni '96

    I say no season this year, and instead let them ALL go into the real world and work like everyone else. We will see how fast they agree on a new contract..Besides, I would rather watch college hoops, they play for the love of the
    game, and not for the $$

    November 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Air

      they do play for the love of wanting to make money in the NBA though

      November 15, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. PHinMiami

    Hey, we're OK. Finally, something in the news that can't ruin our lives.

    It's actually humorous.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • stuart bishop

      (newspaper headline) "Comedy Act by NBA"

      November 15, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
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