The NBA Lockout: Like the NFL's, Only Much, Much Worse

The NBA's labor Cold Warsomehow manages to be worse than advertised

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The NFL lockout has been protracted, ugly and bad for business. But at least players and owners can take comfort in the fact they're in the same galaxy.

The same can't be said for the NBA's attempts to forge a new collective bargaining agreement. Basketball's lockout officially began Friday at midnight, but the union and the league have waging their own private cold war for nearly two years, says New York Times NBA writer Howard Beck. They're "separated by several billion dollars over the life of a new collective bargaining agreement" and in the past week "each side has accused the other of misrepresenting its proposals." (This would might not seem like a point of concern, but Beck also points out they "cannot even agree on how to characterize their respective proposals.")'s Michael Wilbon has no doubt that the dispute will wreak havoc with the 2011-2012 season."The NBA is going to miss games, and the smart money is on the league missing lots of games," he says. "A new group of owners who paid a ton of money for their franchises since the last work stoppage 13 years ago are ready to sacrifice the season."

According to the commissioner David Stern, 22 of the 30 franchises lost a combined $370 million last year, but that's all relative. "There might not be any losses at all," insists union head Billy Hunter (above). "It depends on what accounting procedure is used."

This might seem like a stretch, until you hear about the Producers-style creative bookkeeping owners use to drive their balance sheet into the red. Yesterday, Deadspin published the New Jersey Nets' financial records from 2003 through 2006 to illustrate the complicated write-offs and tax breaks that morphed a $7 million profit into a $27.6 reported net loss. The specifics are dense and have inspired walkthroughs of their own. And that, says Deadspin's Tommy Craggs, gets to the heart of the financial crunch facing the NBA and pro sports as a whole. He explains:

"[T]his is about as close a look as you'll get at the financial workings of a sports franchise, and even then the balance sheets are hopelessly opaque. But that's partly the point. In the modern era, franchises are owned by businessmen who approach their teams as one of many interconnected wealth-generating mechanisms."

And sometimes, they don't even generate wealth.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.