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NBA owners won. Big. But the players can live with it.

Nov 26, 2011, 12:04 PM EDT

CORRECTED VERSION - NBA And Player's Association Meet To Negotiate CBA Getty Images

As the talk starts to build of all the little concessions the NBA players got in the last week to make an NBA labor deal happen in time for games on Christmas day, remember this:

The owners won.

In a massive way. This is an Attila the Hun sweeping through Eastern Europe kind of win — devastating and total.

David Stern and the owners came into these NBA labor talks saying they lost more than $300 million last season and $400 million the year before that. By getting the players to agree to what is in practice a 50/50 split of basketball related income (although the deal allows the players to get to 51 percent if revenue increases enough) the owners got the players to essentially accept a 12 percent salary cut that will cover those losses.

This will come to more than $3 billion back in the owners’ pockets if the deal lasts the full 10 years (both sides can opt out of the deal after six years). What’s more, the deal means the players will have shorter contracts with lower raises going forward. Plus, the system now ties the hands of larger market, bigger spending teams helping depress salaries that way.

The owners will tell you they didn’t get everything they wanted, some will vote against this deal. Those guys are fools — they got more than enough to balance their books. Combined with more robust revenue sharing — soon to be triple what it was — small market owners should be able to break even or turn a profit. They should be able to compete (they could before, ask San Antonio and Oklahoma City). If they can’t, well, it’s on them now. It’s not the system.

All that said, the players got enough small victories — and a couple key ones — that this is a deal they can live with.

Early in the lockout, PBT spoke with former NBA players union president Charles Grantham and he said the smartest move the union ever made, the thing they could not give up in these talks, was keeping the salary cap tied to league revenue. Early offers from the owners wanted to detach the two — players salaries would stay flat at about $2 billion a year and all of the money from expected growth in the league (such as a new national television deal coming in 2016) would go straight to the owners pockets.

The players won that fight. They will get a smaller share of that revenue, but as the league’s revenue grows player salaries will go up. Grow the game and grow how much money you make.

The other two hills the players were willing to die on were guaranteed contracts and a hard salary cap. The owners relented on those as well. Yes, the owners now have more ways to get out of bad contracts faster, and yes the new luxury tax rules make it much more costly for high-revenue teams to spend big, but the players won those fights on principle.

There were other small victories, such as getting the threshold to get to the 51 percent of revenue lowered to a makeable goal. The players got the extend-and-trade so their biggest stars can better control their exits from teams. They got a solid mid-level exception for tax paying teams.

That was enough. It needed to be enough because the players were going to start losing more money in salary than they were making back fighting over the scraps of this deal.

But this negotiation was all about the money, and the owners got a lot more of it. They won. The small market owners in particular should now be able to turn a profit. The players got a way to save face at the end but the owner won and won big.

With this caveat…

In 1999, after a lockout that lasted into January, the owners were thought to have won. They got a cap on max salaries, so that there would be no more deals like the one Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal had gotten. They got a percentage that capped players’ salaries in total at 57 percent. Everyone said the owners won, including the players.

A dozen years later, the owner were crying that the deal was unfair and killing them. You never know how things will play out. And you can bet in 10 years, when this deal formally ends, there will be owners saying what a bad deal this is for them and how it is killing them. Even if the fault is their own management.

  1. richfactor - Nov 26, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    Good job owners. It’s your money you invested. This is America if the players want to own a team then by all means pursue it.

    • skids003 - Nov 28, 2011 at 1:42 PM

      I agree. And who are the fools here, Kurt? I think alot of people would be happy to have a job playing a game and make millions of dollars. If the players don’t like it, let them start their own league.

  2. worldbfree4me - Nov 26, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    I could care less about the meat and potatoes of the deal. Most fans including me just want to know when Miami gets to avenge their loss against the surely not to repeat Mavs…

    • danielcp0303 - Nov 26, 2011 at 12:51 PM

      I think you mean “couldn’t care less”.

    • thetooloftools - Nov 27, 2011 at 3:06 AM

      Miami won’t avenge ~hit.

  3. jimeejohnson - Nov 26, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    Blake Griffin will still throw down massive dunks over everyone even if his LA Clippers stink. Whichever team signs him to his next contract could…go…all the way! You listening, Mr. Ainge?

  4. rreducla1 - Nov 26, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    Miami at Dallas is scheduled for 12.25.

  5. The Baseball Gods - Nov 26, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    My feeling is that both sides lost with this deal. The one important thing the league needed to draw attention back to the sport was a hard salary cap. It would have made for a more competitively balanced league, which is one of the main problems with the NBA.

    • mytthor - Nov 26, 2011 at 1:44 PM

      Competitive balance is an unachievable myth in the NBA. At any given time in league history, less than 10 guys have the ability to lead a team to a championship. Individual talent is a much bigger predictor of success in the NBA than in other sports, owing to the much smaller team sizes. No amount of system tweaks will make a Danny Granger led team beat a Dirk Nowitski led team in a 7 game series.

      • therealhtj - Nov 26, 2011 at 3:26 PM

        Sure but being able to cut the Waltons/Currys/Injured Max Deal Guy without penalty would sure give them a much better chance.

  6. cg31 - Nov 26, 2011 at 1:25 PM

    It will be so nice to see the Mavs collect their championship rings on Christmas Day in front of the Miami Heat team. At least Lebron will finally be a part of a championship ring ceremony.

  7. adirtyplayernamedsue - Nov 26, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    I was hoping they never played another pro basketball game ever again.

    • therealhtj - Nov 26, 2011 at 3:27 PM

      I was hoping once this was over, trolls like you would go away for good.

  8. xliontamer - Nov 26, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    Do we know if they can opt out anytime after six years or just at six years? Meaning if they don’t opt out at six years, it remains in place for the full ten?

  9. bowler301 - Nov 26, 2011 at 2:58 PM

    Oh, Boo, Hoo! The people I feel sorry for are the venders and the small people that depend on the small income that they make and lost out on the income during the lockout.. It’s not like the players are only making $50,000. I actually think the owners should get a larger percentage of the pot as they are the ones putting up the money and are hoping their team performs well over time, with no guarantee of profits. It’s sad that everyone is so greedy.

  10. garyaroot - Nov 26, 2011 at 3:10 PM

    If the owners won, and can stay in business, then the NBA has won as well. If the NBA wins then the players have won, because they can continue to get their bloated millionaire salaries. The only loser here is the bloated ego of the players. I hope they can get up enough confidence now to continue playing basketball.

  11. 06mustang - Nov 26, 2011 at 3:28 PM

    Players: WAH WAH we want more money
    Owners: WAH WAH we want more money
    Fans: May I have two 12 dollar beers please?

    • rscalzo - Nov 26, 2011 at 5:00 PM

      Got that right.

  12. vikesfansteve - Nov 26, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    The player got F’d with no vaseline, just a match & a little bit of gasoline.

    • rscalzo - Nov 26, 2011 at 5:00 PM

      They are free tyo find employment elsewhere if they don’t like it.

  13. hellinisamoron - Nov 26, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    “Devastating and total” You really are a moron Hellin. The players still have jobs right? Will make millions right? Guaranteed contracts right? Mid level exceptions, check. No hard cap. What a clown you are. and the deal is tied to gross revenues. Do you realize it costs any business more more to make money in this economy. Not sure which player you are dating, but you are a joke.

  14. mikeinthevine - Nov 26, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    Since the owners wanted a 33% pay reduction, saying this was a huge win for the owners is a little over the top. For the knucklehead Miami fan, they aren’t going to win anything.

  15. idontevenwannaknow - Nov 26, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    “…small market owners should be able to break even or turn a profit. They should be able to compete (they could before, ask San Antonio and Oklahoma City). If they can’t, well, it’s on them now. It’s not the system.”

    That’s fine, BUT those teams would be left out in the cold if it wasn’t for some lottery draft luck, good scouting (especially San Antonio), and some loyalty from some players they took in the draft, but I still don’t see superstar players banging down the doors of teams like San Antonio to play with their organization, and San Antonio is consistently a good team, maybe a piece or two away from a championship many years over the course of the last decade, or so.

    I don’t believe that the players lost in this round of negotiations. They will be celebrating this deal if it makes the rest of the league competitive. Why, because if the NHL has shown us anything, making more teams competitive grows your fan base, which, in turn, will cause revenues to grow, which means that the revenue “pie” will grow, which is shared with players, leading to a healthier league and happier, and richer, owners and players.

    • 6thsense79 - Nov 27, 2011 at 10:47 AM


      Nice to know the owners bamboozled you also with this parity nonsense. The NBA has NEVER had parity. NEVER. Look back at the past winners of NBA championships and you’ll notice it’s mostly Lakers and Celtics on that list peppered with a Washington here, a Knick there, Philly here. Even during the Golden age 80s it was Lakers and Celtics. The 90s it was Bulls for 6 out of 10 championships. The 00s it was Lakers and Spurs. In fact when the Spurs experienced their mini dynasty those NBA championships were amongst the lowest rated of its era. Evidently the public didn’t care for parity. In fact I didn’t even hear any groundswell for parity until the owners made it a major sticking point in the CBA negotiations. There wasn’t a number of sports articles about NBA parity, I know a number of NBA fans and they weren’t talking about this, yea they hated how the decision went down but not because of parity just how James treated his employee by announcing it on TV. Just about everyone I talked to said it was James’ right as a free agent to leave.

      Players have been forcing their way onto glamour teams for generations. Kareem Abdul Jabbar made his way from the Bucks to the Lakers way back when.

      Finally….Short of taking away free agency the NBA will never be like the NFL. The NBA more than any sports league is dependent on its superstars to build a championship team and it only takes 2 megastars and a handful of good complimentary role players to win a championship. The NFL is waaay more complicated than that as the Philly Eagles has shown us. Short of taking away free agency the NBA will NEVER have parity. If a Superstar wants to take a 3 year deal instead of the max deal to hit free agency faster and choose his next team what’s to stop him? If he wants to take a 2 year deal to do the same thing what’s to stop him? If he decides he rather play in LA or New York for a lot less than Milwaukee because he can make up the difference in ad money what’s to stop him?

      • idontevenwannaknow - Nov 27, 2011 at 1:25 PM

        That’s fine, but healthier teams means a healthier league as a whole. I’m sure the NBA sees that in order to really grow their product they must have more NBA teams competitive every year. If you’re a Laker, Heat, or Celtic fan, then I understand the opinion that there is no need for parity, or it is unrealistic. Look at what has happened to the NHL since their lost season, more competitive teams across the board, which resulted in an increase in interest from fans, BUT it sure is fun watching a couple teams year to year running over competition to the title as some like in the NBA.

        An NBA with more competitive teams will draw more interest. Did you ever think that the reason why San Antonio had such low ratings is because the NBA only really matters in a few areas such as big market NY, LA, Boston (along with their bandwagon fans), that as soon as those teams were out of the mix they just tuned out? Maybe the other owners will sacrifice those bandwagon fans in the hopes of building longer lasting fan bases across the country. Are the fans of big market, big spending teams really that concerned with a little drive to find parity? Make an NBA championship within reach to more than just a few fan bases and watch the NBA popularity grow.

  16. richfactor - Nov 26, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    Good job owners.

  17. Greg Vick - Nov 26, 2011 at 6:01 PM

    Who cares? I don’t watch ANY professional sports because all of them are (owners and players) are spoiled and take advantage of the people who watch and support the teams. $100 for a ticket to a game, $12 beer, $8 hot dog, $25 to park … It’s crazy, and it’s not worth it. It’s too bad that the entire season was not cancelled …

    There are some good guys in sports, but for the most part they are all punks.

  18. omniusprime - Nov 27, 2011 at 10:19 AM

    The owners may have thought they won this round but I am going to be bone fan who’s going to watch far less NBA basketball than the past few years. The biggest losers in this deal are us fans and it’s time we struck back by wasting less time and money watching these grossly overpaid prima donnas. I’ve found that there are better things to do than waste time on watching NBA games. So David Stern you won’t be getting anymore NBA League Pass money from me.

  19. gregg1615 - Nov 27, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    Salary of retired US Presidents ………….$450,000 FOR LIFE
    Salary of House/Senate members ……….$174,000 FOR LIFE
    Salary of Speaker of the House ………….$223,500 FOR LIFE
    Salary of Majority/Minority Leaders …..$193,400 FOR LIFE

    Average salary of a soldier DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN – $38,000
    Average income for seniors on SOCIAL SECURITY – $12,000

    Average salary for an NBA player……….5.1 MILLION

    I’m glad that the many many average people who work at NBA venues will get to work again, but these salaries out whacked.

    • 6thsense79 - Nov 28, 2011 at 8:50 AM

      Nothing out of whack at all about the NBA salary. That’s just capitalism working. The NBA is a private organization that brings in $4 billion in revenue per year. The product and employee are the players for which entry to the league is limited to only the most talented.

      Very few NBA level talent + demand to the tune of $4 billion = High players’ salary.

      All the other salaries you listed from President to soldier are not revenue producing occupations. Thus in this capitalistic society those occupations will not approach the salaries of a revenue producing monster like the NBA.

  20. mannyicey - Nov 27, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    I don’t think that the owners “won”, because there are no real winners in this thing. The owners lost a great deal of money. The small market teams will still have problems getting fans to buy tickets. And now they have to vie for attention. And they will be doing this during NCAA Bowl Season.

    What the NBA needs are good story-lines and the whole Lebron and Miami Heat thing is played. I mean, if the Heat goes out and win it all this year, who cares?

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