For 150 days, the National Basketball Association and its players were in a lockout that at times got ugly. When reports surfaced that Commissioner David Stern was planning to offer a less favorable proposal to the play- ers that would almost certainly be rejected, the chances of a season were in jeopardy. However, both sides managed to set aside their differences and worked to finish a deal that would ensure at least six years of labor peace. Following the dissolution of the play- ers’ union, the filing of a federal antitrust lawsuit, and a 15-hour settlement negotiation, the two sides in the NBA labor dispute came to a tentative agreement to settle the players’ lawsuit at roughly 3:30 a.m. on November 26th.
“There has mainly been a sense of relief (from the players),” said Alan Hahn, News- day’s beat reporter for the NBA and New York Knicks.. “When the owners offered that last ultimatum proposal on November 11th, the players were annoyed that the owners didn’t budge on their requests in the deal and the belief was that, with the process moved into the forum of antitrust litigation, the season may be lost. Others were frustrated that they never had the chance to vote on that proposal. All of the players knew they were going to lose financially in this deal, and they did. But it could have been much worse if they lost the season, too.”
The ecstatic feel of the players could be felt by looking at Twitter during Thanksgiving weekend. When Miami Heat superstar LeBron James found out a deal was reached, he tweeted, “I feel like my kids on X-Mas Day! So juiced!!”
Former New Jersey Nets forward and current free agent Kris Humphries tweeted, “Woke up to great news…Can’t wait to get back on the court! Thanks to all our fans for your patience.”
Los Angeles Clippers star power forward Blake Griffin showed his appreciation of the NBA returning with the following message on Twitter, “This must be how the guys in Space Jam felt when MJ gave them their powers back through that old basketball.”
As a result of this tentative agreement, a 2011-2012 season has been salvaged, although the fans will not being seeing the normal 82- game season as in a regular year. This year, there will be a shortened 66-game schedule, beginning on Christmas Day, with a handful of headlining games to start off the campaign.
“Returning on Christmas Day was a critical achievement because this day has become a traditional starting day for the NBA’s na- tional television schedule,” mentioned Hahn. “If the lockout had continued into the New Year, and possibly led to the loss of the en- tire season, I’m sure the NBA would have a greater concern with apathy and overall fan disgust. I believe they salvaged this thing at the last possible moment.”
On the Christmas Day slate, the New York Knicks are hosting the Boston Celtics at noon, the defending-champion Dallas Mavericks will be squaring off against the Miami Heat at 2:30 in a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals, and the Los Angeles Lakers welcome the Chicago Bulls at 5 p.m. ET.
“A classic old-school matchup against a historical rival,” said Hahn about the Knicks- Celtics matchup. “And having the Celtics there, fresh off the bitter sweep last spring, provides an immediate opportunity for re- demption.”
Although basketball has returned, when- ever a sport goes into a lockout it runs the risk of losing fans. There is even more of a danger of losing a fan base when there is an extended lockout like Major League Baseball in the 1990’s, or when the same league has had to miss games during multiple seasons like the NBA had previously done in the 1998-1999 season.
“I’m sure some casual fans have deserted,” said Seth Rosenthal of PostingandToast- ing.com, a Knicks blog. “My sense is that a great deal of people still love the game and that the lockout didn’t run long enough that real diehards abandoned ship. I assume that the League’s momentum will pick up where it left off.”
The regular season usually starts in late October, but this year’s start is nearly two months later. This gives older, veteran teams time to recuperate from injuries at the end of last year as well as rest. But for teams such as the Knicks, the extended lockout has the potential to cause some problems.
“One of the most conspicuous issues with last year’s team (post-trade) was a lack of chemistry and coherence,” noted Rosenthal. “A full training camp and exhibition schedule would have served to foster chemistry heading into this season.”
The Knicks can look at the positive side of the 150-day lockout and see that their top three players with injuries: Carmelo Anthony (knee and elbow), Amare Stoudemire (back), and Chauncey Billups (knee), all are now completely healthy. They will come into this season with less wear and tear on their bodies than in previous seasons.
Matt Soldano, a senior Broadcasting major at C.W. Post and an avid basketball fan, was extremely excited when he found out the NBA had ended its lockout. “The end of the NBA lockout also represents the end of a very dark moment in my life,” said Soldano. “I re- ally missed the game. Now that we will finally have basketball, I could care less about which side got the best of the negotiations and who is getting what money. All I want to see is actual basketball.”
In response to the Pioneer’s inquiries to Jean Casner, the NBA’s Vice President of Compensation, regarding the NBA’s posi- tion about the end of the lockout, she replied, “We are not able to provide responses at this time as our efforts are focused on getting the tentative agreement finalized and signed and preparing for the season to begin on Christ- mas Day.”
Did the players accept a deal that wasn’t in their best interest? Did the players sign a deal with their hearts instead of their heads? Probably so, says Hahn: “The players knew they were going to lose on this deal – the troubling economic climate has impacted every industry, so professional sports is no different – but they were trying to avoid being completely obliterated. In the end, they (the players) made almost $300 million in salary concessions and lost security with shortened guaranteed contracts. This wasn’t going to be a good deal for the players, but it wasn’t the worst deal they could have taken.”
The owners won in the negotiating room against the players, but the biggest winners with the conclusion of the lockout may very well be the fans and local businesses around NBA arenas. With the NBA season back, more money stands to be made as the season tips off. This year will bring a very Merry Christmas to NBA fans around the country.