The lockout just started, and I’m pretty much done with it.
So how does this thing get resolved?
Sadly, it’s going to take some time, but a couple of factors need to come together.
There needs to be pressure on both sides to strike a deal. No real contract negotiations — whether you are talking with teacher’s union, longshoremen, truckers or professional athletes — really get going until there is pressure on one or both sides to compromise and reach a deal. You would think that the lockout would be pressure, but it’s not really. All that happens now is rookies do not get to prove themselves at Summer League and players who have been rehabbing post surgery with the team’s trainers are out of luck. But that is not real pressure.
Losing money is real pressure. That is not happening now in the dead of the offseason (well, some sponsorship and other money may be lost, but it is not yet serious). The real pressure comes when owners are threatened with not getting revenue from games, or when the players are threatened with not getting paychecks (the first NBA player payday would be Nov. 15, so we are into what would be the season a few weeks before that happens). Basically, losing actual NBA regular-season games — and with that the momentum for the league this season brought — is pressure.
The real threat of losing money doesn’t hit the owners and players until the middle of August. That is when you start thinking about things needing to be cancelled. That is when negotiations will get serious (in the short term, before then, expect the two sides to drift farther apart). If the two sides are not making progress toward a deal by the middle of September, then we should be worried. Then games — and maybe a lot of games — are at risk.
The players need to decide how much they are willing to give back. Until this ends, we will keep talking about compromise. And there will be compromise, neither side is going to get everything they want.
But the players are going to exit these negotiations more poor than they entered. Even if the owners decided suddenly tomorrow to accept the players’ proposal, the players would be giving back $500 million in the next five years. That may be well short of what the owners want — David Stern called it “modest” — but that is a lot of money in real dollars.
The owners are going to push hard for more — much more. There are some hardline owners driving the boat right now and while at some point the more veteran, level-headed owners may change the course of that ship, they are not coming all the way back to the players. The players are talking about how unified they are, but they cannot hold out as long as the owners.
At what point is the pain the players are going to feel from a lockout worse than the pain they would feel from taking the deal on the table? That will be the day the lockout ends. But this may be a more unified group of players than the ones that held out long enough to reduce the 1998-99 season to 50 games. (And that was a deal hailed as a huge win for the owners at the time.)
Will the fear of killing the momentum the league generated in the last 12 months mean a deal can be reached before games are lost? That is the hundreds of millions of dollars question. Both sides give lip service to how the fans will be hurt by the lockout and how they don’t want to alienate the fans. But that has yet to translate to meaningful actions by either side.
We can only hope that concern, combined with the fear of lost money (by both sides) and some level heads, solves this situation before games are lost.
But even in the best of scenarios, it’s going to be a while before we see any resolution.