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NBA Players Make $3.3 Billion Bet That Might Pay Off

NBA Lockout
NBA Lockout

When the NBA players announced their intention to disband their union with the plans to file an antitrust lawsuit against the league, they were putting $3.3 billion of their own money on the line.

Here's the math.

If they took the deal and earned 50 percent of Basketball Related Income, they'd make approximately $2.1 billion collectively for the season. NBA players would lose about $800 million to $1 billion over the course of a 10-year deal by conceding to go from where they wanted to be (52 percent) to where the league wanted them to be (50 percent).

So by taking nothing, they lose that $2.1 billion, but also could lose the ability to get a better deal. If NBA commissioner David Stern holds on his offer that the next best deal he'll offer is 47 percent of Basketball Related Income, that's another $1.2 billion lost over a 10-year deal.

Then, you have to factor in the fact that a lost season would likely lead to a decrease in revenue due to a decline in fan interest. I conservatively figured that revenue will be down 1.5 percent in Year 1 and 1 percent in Year 2 before getting back to the business it was last year in the third year. That's another $107.5 million split between the players and owners.

That's how I get $3.3 billion.

Now, let's discuss what they can win.

Unlike the NFL players, which had to file its antitrust lawsuit in a particular court because of history, the players can file their lawsuit anywhere. That can make a difference. Add to the fact that, starting today (because they're due their first paychecks), they can actually show damages. That's unlike the NFL players who weren't getting paid since they filed in the offseason.

But the NBA players also have a better chance to get a court injunction, which would effectively block the lockout and impose terms on owners, forcing them to negotiate as a season begins immediately. This will ruin all the leverage the owners have.

The NFL players couldn't get that injunction because the Norris-La Guardia Act bars federal courts from issuing injunctions in labor disputes. Because the NFL players filed for their antitrust lawsuit immediately upon the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it was hard to debate that what they were doing had nothing to do with a labor dispute. The NBA is less clear because, unlike the NFL, they've negotiated in good faith for four and half months as a union.

If they don't get the injunction, the players can still try to proceed with its antitrust lawsuit and see if they can prevail. While this could take a long time, they could get treble (triple) damages if they win. They can ask for the $2.1 billion they lost this season and come up with a number for loss of value for losing one year of their ability to play while getting older, according to . If they can prevail, they could get $9 to $10 billion in damages.

In an interesting twist, the NBA players have hired David Boies, who represented the NFL in the fight against the players antitrust lawsuit. In that case, he argued that the Norris La Guardia Act prevented the players from blocking the lockout. Now, he'll have to argue exactly the opposite.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com