Keeping Score

NBA Season Saved, Just In Time For Christmas

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Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat attempts a shot against the Tyson Chandler of the Dallas Mavericks in Game Six of the 2011 NBA Finals in Miami.

NBA fans will receive quite a gift this Christmas: a season. At around 3:30 AM Saturday morning, the NBA’s owners and players announced that they have reached a handshake agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, after a 149-day lockout threatened to wipe out the entire 2011-2012 season. The season will tip-off on Christmas Day, and will feature a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals meeting between the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat. A majority of the NBA’s owners and players must approve the agreement, and although some people on both sides are not happy – “We (bleeping) caved,” one veteran player, who said he would not vote for the new deal, texted Yahoo! Sports – the deal’s approval is a mere formality. There will be pro basketball this year.

While the finer details of the proposed agreement will trickle out over the next few days, it’s clear that the union will end up with somewhere between 49% and 51% of basketball-related income (television money, concession cash, ticket revenue, etc) for player salaries. Under the old agreement, the players got 57% of so-called “BRI” for salaries. Using the $3.8 billion in BRI the NBA generated for the 2010-2011 season, that’s $266 million shifting from the players to the owners under the new agreement, assuming a 50-50 split. That’s a significant win for the owners.

The NBA owners, however, entered these negotiations wanting an NFL-style “hard” salary cap, which would prohibit team payrolls from exceeding a certain amount. While the NBA did not get this concession, teams that spend above the max will have to pay a more punitive “luxury tax,” giving them less incentive to pay exorbitant salaries. So this is maybe slight win for the players.

(MORE: NBA Lockout And The Economy: An Overstated Impact)

Throughout these negotiations, the players had little real leverage. The window in which professional athletes can earn their millions is short. Bodies are aging during every missed game, every missed paycheck. The players did seem to pick up a bit of leverage, however, after they decertified as a union on Nov. 15, and filed anti-trust lawsuits against the league that could have cost the NBA $6 billion in damages. The NBA would never publicly admit this union tactic scared them. But we know that before the suit, NBA commissioner David Stern was insisting that if the players did not take the 50-50 revenue-split offer on the table, it would never return, and that the owners would not be willing to accept more 47% of basketball-related income going to the players. In the end, the players received more than 47%.

So if you’re an NBA player, you have to be asking yourself: what took us so long to decertify? By filing the lawsuits in November, the players gave up some leverage, since the NBA knew that if the players were serious about seeing them through the courts, they were serious about giving up the season: these suits can take months to snake through the system. The NBA doubted, for good reason, that the players were willing to sacrifice an entire season to save a few percentage points in BRI. If the union had decertified as soon as the agreement expired in July – like the NFL union did when its collective bargaining agreement expired earlier this year – part of a lawsuit could have been adjudicated. A ruling in the players’ favor could have forced the NBA’s hand a bit more. Worst case, if the suit is not successful, and you end up in the same place you are now.

Luckily, such Monday-morning quarterbacking of the negotiation strategies will last about a day or two. People just want to see basketball. And according to Twitter, the players just want to take the floor. If this is true I am Bouta go wake my mom n grandma up and put on a suit and thunder hat and cry!” the NBA’s leading scorer, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, tweeted. “Please be tru”

Sure is. See you at tipoff.

MORE: The Lasting Damage of the NBA Lockout