It seems the 2011-12 National Basketball Association season is up in the air, after team owners announced last week that its players have been "locked out."
The NBA owner's claim 22 of its 30 teams lost money this past season.
Yet critics note the NBA just completed its most profitable season ever, pulling in a record $4.3 billion in revenue. And attendance was the fifth-highest total in league history.
NBA Commissioner David Stern said the league-wide losses reached $200 million. Owners argue they are tired of losing millions in a system that has guaranteed players 57 percent of revenues. They want an overhaul that would allow small-market teams to compete with the big spenders. They also claim all teams should be making money.
The losses, claim NBA owners are due to awful contracts that teams have given to older players, says Stern. Certain players are guaranteed money that has to be paid long after a player's value has expired, the owners charge. Some players were signed high-paying contracts yet the owners argue there is no mechanism for them to "get out" from so-called bad deals.
When it comes down to it, the NBA owners want the union to agree to a hard salary cap enforced across the league under guaranteed profits for each team and the ability to get out of "bad contracts."
In other words, critics note, the owners want the union to help them exercise the fiscal discipline they are unable to exert themselves.
The last NBA lockout reduced the 1998-99 season to 50 games.
The players say this time around they're prepared to last as long as necessary, rather than agree to the proposed changes. The players are showing a resolute determination unseen in labor disputes in the past. Fifty players showed up to negotiations last week before the NBA lockout was announced, wearing bright yellow T-shirts saying "STAND."
"It's going to get ugly," said TNT sports analysts and former NBA super star Charles Barkley to the Associated Press. "I've already been on the record saying I don't think they're going to play at all next season," he said.
In a statement Derek Fisher with the Los Angeles Lakers and president of the National Basketball Player's Association said, "We will not accept a bad deal that is not fair to our players. We'd love to avoid a lockout, but we are unified in the sense of not being afraid if that's what we're faced with."
The players argue if the owners wishes come true, teams will have a couple of superstar players that make a fortune and then ten guys would end up fighting over the crumbs. The owners, players say, want a Christmas list of anti-union demands that would not just hurt players but the entire game of basketball.
Hornets All-Star Chris Paul told the Associated Press, "At the end of the day, we just want to do what's right. We want a fair deal. We just want to hoop. Like I've said before, it's all about our fans. They want to see us play."
In the NBA both sides are expected to meet again in a couple of weeks. It's possible the National Labor Review Board could end the lockout at the request of the player's union.
Fans hope the two sides can come to a long-term agreement. They want the owners to practice the very self-discipline that the league preaches to its players.
Photo: NBA players Association president Derek Fisher speaks to reporters after a meeting with the league, June 30, in New York. Despite a three-hour meeting both sides could not come to terms ending in a lockout. Mary Altaffer/AP