The NBA has been officially locked out since July 1. But on Monday night, as the two sides failed to reach a compromise on a new collective bargaining agreement, the lockout reached a new level: the first two weeks of the 2011-2012 NBA season have been canceled. This is not virgin territory for the NBA. With a lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season still fresh on fans' minds, and the success of the 2010-2011 season, it seems poor timing for the perennial middle child (if that) of America's sports love to lose any part of a season.
With the NBA locked out and a shortened season the best thing fans can hope for, it's helpful to break down a few misconceptions about the circumstances that got us to this point, as well as the reality of the situation we're in.
First of all, this has been coming for quite a while. Everyone knew it was going to happen. And, despite the fact that everyone knew it was going to happen (perhaps even as far back as the last lockout), the two sides – represented by David Stern and Billy Hunter – didn't meet until August. Now that the first two weeks of the season have been canceled, at least one ESPN reporter claims that the real work will finally begin. That's a pathetic effort from a sport that isn't entitled to anywhere near the rate of audience-retention that big brother NFL is.
Secondly, despite the above griping, those who say this is just millionaires and billionaires fighting over money are dead wrong. The fight is over money, certainly, but only one side is demanding more. While the owners were previously receiving a paltry – in their eyes – 43% of the BRI (the Basketball Related Income), the players came to the initial meetings willing to move down, from 57% to 53%. While some speculated this might be an acceptable compromise, initial reports claimed the owners wanted the players to bump all the way down to 39%. Then it looked as though the owners were only willing to meet if that figure was at 50-50. Finally, it's been reported that the owners want to take as much as 54%. All these figures have been thrown around as a precondition on the part of the owners to the resumption of meetings. It's hard to call those kind of tactics good faith negotiation.
An underreported angle to the story – at least in the mainstream media – is how the second-tier people will be affected by this. While SLAM Online reported NBA players' reactions to the announcement, there have been no in-depth stories on the hundreds, if not thousands, of employees at the arenas, ticket offices, concession stands and security. Surely these people, for whom this is presumably their job, the main source of their income, need a their paychecks more than any of the players do, not to mention the owners, for many of whom owning an NBA team is a literal luxury. Make sure to include the third-tier layer of ramifications, such as lowered airline revenue from fewer people traveling to games and lowered restaurant revenue from fewer people going out for the night to watch the game and it's easy to see how this lockout spawns beyond the simple degree that many want to classify it as.
It's easy to look at the NBA lockout, in the era of the Occupy Wall Street movement as just another sign of corporate greed. However, like all economic situations, the truth resists simplicity. The players union and the owners have a complicated battle ahead of them, culminating not in the moment that the season is saved – or doomed – but rather in the rehabilitation of their image after that fact. To say that greed got them to this point is ignorant. But if you're looking for a simple tagline, some of that elusive truth, it's relatively easy: the players want to play (and get paid) and the owners want to make money. They'll come to an agreement sooner or later. It's only a question of how many people will still be watching.