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. Booger McCoy

    Give 'em all a meatball sandwich and see ya's next year. Actually, never would be better. Bunch of physical freaks making millions to "place a ball inside a basket". Next up, no more Nike commercials!!!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. EricaC

    Grown men crying because they will not as many millions as they once did. Are they serious, while the rest of us are taking the change out our ashtrays to buy of McDonnalds dollar menu and can't even count to a million. They are not think about the thousands of minmmun wage employees who count on them to play to feed their kids. They are gonna make a horrible unemployment rate increase even more because of greed. GROW UP LITTLE BOYS!

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

      Very true.heartfelt..

      November 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Stevo

    Is there anyone in the NBA who is encouraging the other guys to be okay with making less but still making A LOT?... that would be admirable I think.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Huh?

    I like the picture at the top of the article, an accused rapist who fueded with his best teammate Shaq, and another player who pulled an embarrassing stunt on tv. No need to wonder if they are out of touch with reality. We will really miss them.

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

    Well I suppose I only watched the final games normally. No big whoop. Who could possibly care about the games before is beyond me. I'd like to see some new sports come along. The big leagues in any sport have the best players, but the level of arrogance is too much to stomach. Turn off the TV and get to know your family and friends. We will all be better off.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rick

    GOOD. Nothing would make me happier than the seaon ending, well, except the league folding for good all together.
    Bunch of over-paid, under-talented, people who do nothing but whine. So happy this happened. Hope it could only happen to the NFL, then the MLB. This goes to show that at some point reality has to set in and people playing sports, need not make millions a year. Isn't this sort of like the 'Occupy' mess going on? The rich getting richer?

    November 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Rinconmom

    The name of the game is G-R-E-E-D!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dale

      No, the name of the game is stupidity...on the part of the fans who are stupid enough to throw hundreds of dollars per game at these neanderthals!! Sometimes you get what you pay for.

      November 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mike2

    hahaha i work my ass off every single day for a tiny fraction of what these idiots make for PLAYING BASKETBALL, good riddance... please go work at KFC cuz that would be hilarious.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Richard Braswell

    Seems like the players have put the Marv Albert on themselves. Boys, other than your agents, no one cares.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  10. So What

    I say get rid of the NBA altogether, basketball is too boring for me to give a hoot and the drama from these multi-millionaires is comical.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. So What

    Go back to the city courts and play ball for nothing!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Huh?

    Take 5 years off and try coming back NBA. Yaaaaawn, noone cares.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Adam

    Overpaid crybabies who wouldn't know an honest days work if it bit them.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Scott

    Screw the all, power hungry greedy SOB. Good Riddance, the NBA is a joke and so is the management and players associated with it. Over grown little boys run the NBA it's time they sat on the pine and enjoyed a long overdue vacation for their greed and arrogance

    November 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. my opinion

    Seriously, NBA guys...we all had to take paycuts in the last few years...wanna compare percentages?

    November 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
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