Basketball: Deadlock leaves NBA staring into abyss

Money at core of dispute between players and owners which is likely to mean season is cancelled

Washington

US professional basketball is facing the loss of the entire 2011-12 season that was supposed to have started a fortnight ago, after the NBA players' union rejected the latest labour contract proposal from owners, and dug in for a legal battle that could last for months.

The possibly terminal breakdown came as the lockout imposed by owners entered its 137th day. The union is now taking the formal steps to "decertify", in other words to dissolve itself. This tactic would enable players to launch an antitrust suit against the owners, adding a new layer of rancour to a dispute already bitter enough.

The anger was evident in the reaction of the two sides as the latest talks collapsed on Monday. For the union, "the collective bargaining process has completely broken down". But NBA commissioner David Stern, who represents the owners, accused players of being "hell-bent on self-destruction", and of sending the sport into a "nuclear winter". The move to decertify was simply "a charade", he declared.

The dispute is about many things, including the length of player contracts and proposals to ensure better competitive balance between teams. Inevitably, however, at the bottom of it, is money, and how to divide the NBA's annual $4bn (£2.5bn) of revenues.

Under the previous labour agreement, the players received 57 per cent and the owners 43 per cent. In their final "take it or leave it" offer that the union dismissed on Monday, the latter proposed a 50/50 split. With players refusing to go below 52 per cent, and the owners now threatening a new proposal that would guarantee players only 47 per cent, deadlock is complete.

Before the breakdown, the plan had been for an NBA regular season of 72 games (10 fewer than normal), starting on 15 December. Given that a minimum of 30 days would be needed to prepare for a season, that target is now out of the question. Unless there's a settlement by Christmas, even a shortened season may be beyond salvage.

Owners claim that 22 of the 30 NBA franchises are losing money, but the union challenges those figures, and claims that its members, who are paid only during the playing season proper, are now losing $350m a month in salary. The sheer scale of potential losses may propel the two sides to a deal. If not though, the NBA would be the first of the four major US professional sports leagues to lose an entire season since 2004-05, when the National Hockey League season was wiped out by a similar dispute. Before that, in 1998-99, the NBA had been forced to play a reduced season of 50 games, while the last six weeks of the regular 1994 baseball season as well as the playoffs and World Series were cancelled as a result of a players' strike.

Public sympathy if anything lies with the owners, polls suggest. Workers in most industries may be suffering – but NBA players are not normal workers. With an average salary of $5m, they are the best paid professional athletes in any league, anywhere in the world.

Torn in the USA: Previous disputes

1987: NFL

Took place as a result of the "Rozelle rule" which negated the concept of signing as a free agent. Players called a strike to protect their rights but NFL owners simply organised replacement teams which included construction workers and bouncers. The strike lasted 24 days.

1994-95: Major League Baseball

Lasting 232 days and 948 matches, the strike centred on a salary cap which the players opposed. It resulted in the season being cancelled midway through.

2004-05: NHL

An owner-imposed lockout caused by a proposed salary cap led the NHL to cancel the whole season, the first time a major professional sports league in North America had cancelled a complete season because of a labour dispute.

Rishi Ghosh-Curling

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected