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.”

Post by:
Filed under: Basketball • Courts • Lawsuit • NBA • Sports
soundoff (852 Responses)
  1. I A

    The game of a Basketball was to excite and joy the millions of fans. Now its just a joke. The days of Michael Jordan when millions stopped there work, kids didnt go to school to watch him compete thats when basetball was a real man game. Now its all about MONEY.

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

      Millions stopped work and kids didn't go to school to watch hoops? Commissioner Stern is that you?

      November 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • brian in dc

      so true.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • giantwarrior

      51% of revenue goes to the players. Where's the rest go? Facility rent, travel, practice facility, coaching, marketing? Seems that payroll expense should be where most of the money goes - that's the value of the team. Anyone know what the breakdown is for other leagues?

      November 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MM101

    Nobody misses it.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Easyrhino

      Misses what?

      November 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. SoulTrain1946

    I hope they get this resolved. I don't want these thugs spending any more time on the street than is necessary.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alan

      You don't deserve basketball

      November 16, 2011 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
  4. Ute Man 2010

    I really hope that they take the players off the air for 1 maybe 2 years so we don't have to watch the over paid babies... no more endorsements too. I hope the owners bring in some kids to can play better and still love the game.

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

    Perhaps everyone of these need to go without a season of paychecks...miss a few mortgage payments and get brought back to the real world. I never watch basketball anyway.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. nclee

    I cannot believe that pro athletes and their owners need more $'s to keep up with the life they are accustomed to, when millions of people in the US (World) can't afford to keep a roof over their head or provide food for their families. They should be ashamed of themselves! It is plain greed that has corrupted this country – corporate executives, actors, public officials making millions, and needing more!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JEN


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

    Who cares? The two sides might as well line up on Wall Street and giggle about whose greed is bigger. Both sides are greedy, spoiled, way overpaid, babies for whom there is NEVER enough money. I wish someone could occupy the NBA. (Maybe Frank McCort should join them, after all he represents sports greed of the highest order, too.)

    November 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bellabiv Devot

    Sadly, I realize the NBA won't ever be as good as it was in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Back then there was talent and likeable personalities in equal measure.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. notme

    this makes 73 responses. NBA=lame... its a rap. college hoops – YES! but the NBA is lost to greed and greed.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Huh?

    What are of those players' posses going to do now? This is horrible.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Pablo

    Screw them, and every overpaid pro athlete who makes more per game than most do during a year. Screw the bloated owners who do the overpaying in the first place. Whatever happened to guys like Al Kaline, who refused $100,000 per season because, he said, no one was worth that kind of money?

    November 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |

    Thank God you greedy owners cannot outsource this job to India! It is either you pay the players what they want or close down. Why should it be 50-50? I urge the players to stay strong and not cave in!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen Bell

      Yes they can outsource. They can go find talent anywhere they please. Their money can allow them to create a whole new team. With the players not following their contracts and playing, the owners have several options, and that does not include bowing down to the greedy, selfish, self-centered men that work for them now.

      November 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joel

    Kinda tells you what the po folks would do when they become the 1%: whine for more millions, even if that means that lots of hard working lower income people (the stadium workers, parking lot attendants, etc.) will lose their jobs. "Occupy the NBA," anyone?

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

    This is the ultimate in greed and selfish behavior. All these players are complaining about their salaries while millions of people are out of work, applying for food stamps and struggling to make a mortgage payment in this country. They make more money than our educators and doctors. How about all of them try a working class job making 40K a year? See how much they would appreciate their salaries.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pablo

      Right on!

      November 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alan

      Umm, isn't it the owners that are complaining about money? They're the ones trying to take more from the players

      November 16, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40