Cover Story: Nuclear winter of the NBA?

Published: Nov. 15, 2011 at 11:47 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2011 at 1:51 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The NBA lockout is not only eating away at the season, now it's eating away at money for local businesses and the city of Charlotte.

Professional basketball's been a part of Charlotte's winters for almost the last 25 years.

But now it's looking more likely that there won't be an NBA season this year.  And that's not just a blow for the city's night life.  It goes much deeper than that.

We're talking about peoples' livelihoods, revenue to fund essential government services and an investment the city made in a downtown arena nearly a decade ago.

Millionaire players battling billionaire owners over the almighty dollar.  Is it hard to get excited about that?

"It's a real tragedy."

NBA commissioner David Stern doesn't mince words.   The season could be lost and we could be looking at a long winter in Charlotte.

"We're about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA," said Stern.

No paychecks for players.  But the pain could be felt all the way down to hotel workers, people who serve in establishments and those in work in restaurants.

Jeff Van Dyke is a managing partner of Charlotte-based Brixx Pizza.

"We would get a lot of the Bobcats employees, cheerleaders, operational staff - those kind of people who come over," he said.  "I hate the fact that they're not getting to work and we miss seeing them."

And your government is going to miss out on the tax dollars off those players' salaries and other workers.  And the sales tax and other revenue from stuff not being bought and sold.

"There's an awful lot at stake here," says Mike Crum, chief operating officer of the Charlotte Regional Visitor Authority.

He says there is a silver lining for taxpayers.

Time Warner Cable Arena, the uptown venue built nearly a decade ago - taxpayers won't be on the hook for any losses related to a lost season.  That's per the agreement the city made with the Bobcats in 2005.

"The team has an obligation to operate and maintain the Arena regardless of whether or not the NBA is playing games at the venue," said Crum.

The arena won't sit empty.  There will be concerts, the Checkers.. the minor-league hockey team and other events scheduled.  But replacing 41 home games (if the lockout lasts all season) won't be easy.

David Berri is a professor of economics at Southern Utah University and an NBA expert.

"I do think we could have a season if the owners would simply accept that they've won. But I don't think that's what's going to happen," he said.  "I think they're pushing for a Packer Viking outcome is what they want."

In other words, a blowout.  Owners say they lost $300 million last season.  They're trying to get more out of the players and even out the revenue so small market teams can compete for a title.

Fans are caught in the middle.

"I'm a season ticket holder since the Hornets," says Jeff Van Dyke.  "I'm going to miss going to the games.. so I hope they get it worked out."

Right now it's not looking good.  The NBA players union Monday rejected the owners' latest offer and began disbanding their union paving the way for players to file an anti-trust lawsuit against the league.

If the dispute ends up in court, it could be a long bitter fight.

All the November games are out.

The players had to accept the deal Monday for games to start in mid-December - that would have been a shortened, 72-game season and now that's out.

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