HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — At least we can all agree on one thing where this lockout is concerned, no one — and we mean NO ONE — is happy about it!
The news out of New York Thursday afternoon prepared us all for what was to come, the NBA’s first lockout in 13 years commenced at 12:01 this morning. It didn’t take long for the feedback to start rolling in from the assembled punditry.
Here is a brief morning sampling of opinions from around the country …
Ian Thomsen of SI.com: How long will this go on? Union chief Billy Hunter anticipated that another meeting will be called in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, he and union president Derek Fisher must consider the unlikely option of decertifying and putting their case into the court system, if they believe they can’t get a fair hearing from the owners.
The alternative is to continue to talk over the summer with the small goal of finding some minimal terms on which both sides can agree. As the next season approaches and both sides are confronted by real pain — a loss of income for the players, and a loss of fan support for the franchises should games be canceled — maybe then there will be a willingness to meet in the middle, with an understanding that their shared business must continue on, even if neither side is particularly happy with the terms.
Or maybe the owners are determined to have their way at the high price of canceling next season, even if that means turning millions of fans into enemies. And maybe the players are unified and stubborn enough to sacrifice an entire season of pay.
The owners can draw on all kinds of anecdotal evidence to show that an extended lockout can be survived. They can focus on how popular the NBA grew to become following the lockout that resulted in a shortened 50-game schedule in 1998-99. They can note that the NHL has recovered quickly from the season-long lockout of 2004-05 that enabled owners to install a hard cap while instantly slashing player contracts by 24 percent. They can also point optimistically to their own ever-improving international market, which provides long-term promise for NBA growth beyond the U.S. The question of the NBA’s ability to survive an extended work stoppage at home doesn’t take into account the larger goal of eventually creating profitable markets around the world.
Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com: All the goodwill the NBA has spent years developing is about to disappear like LeBron James in the fourth quarter of a championship series.
All of the casual fans who had taken a decade off from watching basketball, only to come trickling back last season during a popularity surge that swelled like a post-retirement Charles Barkley, are at risk of being lost, too, in a chorus of “they’re all a bunch of greedy [fill in the blank].”
As he piloted his jet into the unknown, NBA commissioner David Stern looked like the grandfather who tells you he is going to go on a cross-country drive that will not be a problem because he has made cross-country drives before, albeit at a younger age. You looked at him and said to yourself: That man has no business going on a cross-country drive at this juncture of his life when he can just as easily get from Point A to Point B on an airplane.
But Stern, 68, is a man who is dead set on driving his bus down that bumpy road, even if he is putting himself in danger of driving it off a cliff as he pushes the gas pedal harder and harder.
“There will be collateral damage as we go through the summer,” Stern said.
Yeah, no kidding.
The weird thing is how Stern and the owners are going down this mad path so matter-of-factly, treating this fork in the road too much like a detour instead of the route to self-destruction it could easily become. Their lockout has become a self-fulfilling prophesy, and now the consequences begin.
“I’m not scared,” Stern said. “I am resigned to the potential damage that it can cause to our league and all the people who earn a living from our league, and as we get deeper into it, these things have the capacity to take on a life of their own, and you don’t ever predict what will happen.”
Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe: The NBA offered the players a $62 million “flex cap” that would have pared the aggregate salaries to that figure and substantially lowered the maximum amount a team could pay its players. The Los Angeles Lakers spent more than $91 million on salaries this season and the league wanted to lower that cap to in the $70 million range, which could have lowered salaries league wide.
“We have made several proposals to the union, including a deal targeting $2 billion annually as the players’ share — an average of approximately $5 million per player that could increase along with league revenue growth,”deputy commissioner Adam Silver said. “Elements of our proposal would also better align players’ pay with performance.
“We will continue to make every effort to reach a new agreement that is fair and in the best interests of our teams, our players, our fans, and our game.”
The players association called such a plan a “hard cap” and in no way wants an NFL-type system where veteran players can be released without compensation because of their salary. Hunter told reporters in New York that the sides would meet in two to three weeks but league sources say this lockout could cost regular season games.
The league’s last lockout in 1998 did not end until January and the season was reduced to 50 games.
“I’m probably upset, a little frustrated because we just want to play basketball,” New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul said. “But at the end of the day we got to do the things that are right. We just want a fair deal and we want to hook. Like I’ve said before, it’s all about our fans. The worst thing about this situation is our fans, they want to see us play.”
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: So the NBA leveled the lockout at midnight on Thursday, and there’s a real chance the NBA is gone for a full year now. This has the makings of the NHL’s labor war of 2004-05, where the cost of instituting a hard salary cap cost the sport a complete season. The union elders don’t want to give into that, nor do the agents who could be rendered far less relevant in an NBA world where there’s no middle class of players. Stars will get paid, and everyone else will fight for the scraps left under a hard cap.
“The key for this comes from, say, Sept. 1 to Sept. 15,” says a source involved in the talks. “The owners have always been willing to blow off July and August, but once they cancel the first part of the season, that’s when we find out if they have the stomach to go the distance.”
For now, Hunter has the support of the players, but the agents could eventually erode it. Mostly, the agents don’t see a way out here. They don’t see a chance for Hunter to negotiate them out of harm’s way. “I honestly have no idea what our strategy is here,” one prominent agent said this week. “Do we have one?”
Privately, the agents will keep pushing for union decertification. They’ll push for the courts, for chaos, and pray the threat will get the owners to back away from their nuclear demands. The union still hopes those less adamant over the hard cap – the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, for example – will wrest control from the hardliners, including the Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.
The union wishes the owners would solve their competitive-balance issues with revenue sharing, but why should they? They want to make the players do it, and who’s to stop them now? The players also have never been so prepared for a work stoppage, so educated on the issues, the ramifications and that’s a testament to Hunter, Derek Fisher and the information age.
Marc Berman of the New York Post: The sides did agree to meet again in two weeks, which Hunter seemed encouraged by. The NBA will enter its second lockout in 13 years. In 1998, it took a month before the sides reconvened following the start of the lockout.
“This will be a faster pace and should be shorter than 30 days,” Hunter said of the ’98 lockout, which caused the regular season to be reduced to 50 games. “I’ve been expecting this lockout for 2-3 years. So, it’s here. I’m glad it’s happened, now we can really begin to negotiate.”
Hunter said the meeting was “very cordial,” and the “economic issues are still the elephant room.”
“We were all shaking hands,” Hunter said. “See you in a couple of weeks and have a good July 4th weekend”.
The union contends the owners’ last proposal — in contrast to the current system — shifts $8 billion in the direction of the owners across 10 years. The owners want a hard salary cap that will promote non-guaranteed contracts.
Asked if the sides are closer than they were on July 1, 1998, commissioner David Stern said, “I don’t think we’re closer. It worries me we’re not closer. There’s a huge philosophical divide. We’re pretty far apart.
“It’s great we understand it’s nothing personal, but the lack of animosity doesn’t get us any closer in respect to the underlying philosophical divide.”