NEW YORK -- Locked-out NBA players will have their escrow money returned to them for the first time because salaries fell below 57 percent of league revenues last season, two people with knowledge of the situation said Tuesday.
The players will get about $160 million back when a final audit of league revenues is completed later this month. The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the auditing process is ongoing.
Eight percent of player salaries have been withheld each season since the 1999 collective bargaining agreement to ensure that players don't exceed their guarantee of 57 percent of league revenues. They had surpassed that limit each season since, so the money was kept.
But with revenues up during a successful 2010-11 season, salary costs will fall short of that mark for the first time, though it isn't known yet by how far.
The escrow return, first reported Tuesday by NBA.com, could strengthen the players' contention that an overhaul of the current financial system isn't needed and that owners can address their losses by controlled, smarter spending.
The union has argued that the total value of negotiated salaries had decreased in recent years, so player costs weren't the problem.
Players even offered to discuss reducing the guarantee in their initial proposal for a new CBA to replace the one that expired last month. They later proposed dropping it to 54.3 percent shortly before the June 30 deadline, an offer Commissioner David Stern termed "modest."
The sides remained far apart and owners imposed a lockout. The money that will be returned provides players some help while almost all of them will be without paychecks.