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. Ball Player

    Hope they cancel the season and NBA as well. Far cry from the days when you can actually afford to go to a game.
    Let them go get a real job like the rest of Americans suffering everyday to pay their bills.

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

      I've been a season ticket holder for 25 yeas. That's it for me. Even if they return to the courts tomorrow, I'll never spend another dime with the NBA.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bubba

    NBA players, need to wake up and smell the coffee. They are So over payed for just shooting the ball and running back and forth? Give me a break! Now its time to get a real job...

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

      ya AND i think they might get a new jersey every game
      what kissups

      November 15, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tre

    The players want half of the income even though they have no monetary investment in the game. The owners have real money invested, money that they risk on this game. 50/50 split is more than fair.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tripwire4

    It would be nice if just one reporter actually did their job and just report. No need for the slant -either way- tired of being force fed opinions from undergrads who could find another major AND never competed in any sport at any level. I don't care what some correspondent from Booneville Kentucky City College thinks, or feels or senses. Just report the story.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Herman

    We seamlessly segue to baseball just as soon as March Madness ends.

    Careful, guys, some might not even notice your absence.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. John

    This maybe the first time I've agreed with (just about) EVERY comment written.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. NBA What?

    I think that this is wonderful news , hope season gets cancelled, and then the next, and the next.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. NoodleHat

    It is hard to care. Each of them should immediately be neutered. Retroactive abortions if they have already spawned.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. CelticsFan

    I know a lot of people couldn't give a crap about the NBA. To many, it seems like a bunch of rich owners and players can't determine whether or not which side will be slightly richer. And yes, I agree that it is revolting that these people get paid millions to throw a ball through a hoop. Yet, this is my main sport, and it has always been my favorite. I've watched the Celtics ever since I can remember. It is a bonding experience to watch them play and to get passionate about the game I love so much. It will deeply sadden me not to be able to watch Paul Pierce and company carry on the Celtic legacy, but there needs to be some major ego adjustments on both sides for them to even have a chance in hell in having an NBA season. I know the majority of CNN readers simply do not care, and I completely understand them, but this will be the first time in 18 years that I haven't seen my Celtics take the floor, and that is a little depressing.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. r00t4rd3d

    Good riddance over paid rubber ball chasers.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. David M

    It's really pathetic when the rich argue over money. You chumps have part time jobs that pay you millions of dollars. When the season ends, you get to go play golf, extended vacations, hang in the hood, whatever. Don't tell me about how you have to work out and keep in shape in the off season. Most of us don't have an off season, and we still keep in shape. Everytime a player opts for another team they are quick to point out that it's not about the money. Fact is, it always has been about the money. You couldn't care less about the game, as long as you get your bling bling.

    The quality of my life will not go down if you boys don't play hoops. But you better hope this gets resolved because the only thing most of you can do is shoot a ball. If you lose that job, what else can you do? NOTHING.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ted

    Good, Hockey season is with us, a much better game.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rod C. Venger

    No NBA
    It's great to see that there's
    No NBA..

    November 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Help

    I am taking up a collection for these poor, misunderstood players, who will contribute.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. stockton

    Let them eat caviar, poor babies. Sympathy? I don't think so.

    November 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
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