On Oct. 4, NBA league executives and player representatives met in Manhattan as a last chance to salvage a complete NBA season.
Instead, the first two weeks of the regular season were canceled. Even the most optimistic projections don't see a season starting until at least Jan. 1, 2012.
Much like the NFL lockout, the two sides in the NBA negotiations aren't too far apart. Neither side, however, is willing to budge on certain issues. In the last labor agreement, there was a 57/43 revenue split in favor of the players. They are willing go down to 53/47 in these negotiations, but nothing less. The owners originally proposed a 48/52 split in favor of themselves, but once they realized the players would never agree to that, they proposed a 50/50 split.
Both sides are unwilling to budge from their respective proposals, no matter how frequently they meet and how long those meetings take – but that still doesn't mean there's no value in meeting. On the way out of the Oct 4. meeting, NBA commissioner David Stern hinted that another serious meeting might not happen for a month or longer.
It's really hard to understand the lack of urgency the NBA has as days pass by, and here's where the NBA's situation differs from the NFL: The NFL owners could afford to miss games if they needed to, but the NBA owners can't. They have been losing money during full seasons in addition to losing about $100 million every whole week that they miss. NFL owners would have made money if games were missed (based on guaranteed TV contracts).
Another reason the NBA can't afford to miss the season is simply because it doesn't have the same kind of fan base that the NFL does. The NFL could miss three seasons and when it returned it would be just as popular as ever. The NBA picked up a huge amount of fair-weather fans after an incredible 2010-11 regular- and post-season. A significant loss of playing time, however, would almost certainly result in a significant loss of interest by fans, who may just take up hockey instead.
The last time the NBA had a lockout, throughout 1998 and 1999, it took them years to get back to where they were in their "glory days" of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Last year's season was arguably the NBA's best in terms of excitement and publicity since then. As it is, no one other than hardcore NBA fans even cared when the announcement was made that the first two weeks of the season would be cancelled.
Many observers complain about the NBA's players' salaries, even more so than those of the NFL. To a great extent, that has been what caused the owners' deficits over the last few years. The thing people fail to realize is that it's the owners' faults for paying NBA players like John Salmons $39 million over five years, and Joe Johnson $119 million over six years.
If the owners had stopped giving out these ridiculous contracts to mid-level players and instead gave some of that extra money to players who deserve it, they wouldn't be losing money every year, like all but four or five teams currently are.
In a recent interview with ESPN's Dan Le Batard, Miami Heat player representative James Jones said, "The amount of money we make doesn't reflect the value we have to the teams."
The soft salary cap has also created problems, since the best players can't earn their true value. For example, Dwayne Wade makes about $18 million per year, but his value to the Heat is arguably triple that – this is, admittedly, an arbitrary guesstimate, but I think it is pretty fair.
The near future doesn't look too bright for the NBA. If the owners will be willing to budge on a few small details, however, hopefully they can salvage the second half of a season.