The NBA is in a familiar spot to the NHL in 2004.
The NHL was not as wildly successful as the NBA, but it was facing similar problems. Runaway salaries were forcing the talent on to particular teams that could spend. Owners were struggling to fill stadiums. Small market teams could compete, but could not sustain success for long periods of times.
The NHL needed change. And the owners were willing to lose a season to do it.
The general American sports fan may not have realized that hockey missed an entire season (those in the North certainly felt this pain while people down in Tampa, may not have noticed much change even after winning the Stanley Cup the year previous). But it was painful for the players who saw the league implement a salary cap for the first time and several other restrictions designed to make the owners more profitable.
It was painful. And the best advice an NHL veteran like Dave Andreychuck could give to the NBPA trade association? Cut your losses while you still can. Andreychuck tells Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:
“If players think it’s better to sit out the season, let me tell (you), it’s not. It’s just not. In the end, it will be worse.
“As the pressure built — after a month, two months, three months — it started to sink in. Guys were saying to themselves, ‘I’m 25 years old and hockey is how I make my living. We need to get a deal done.’
“The deal got worse by us sitting out. At the end, we were so willing to sign, we had to agree to what the owners wanted. We gave back a tremendous amount just to get a deal done so we could go back to work.”
The players clearly lost that labor battle with the same mismanagement that the NBPA displayed and with the same hard-headedness from the owners. Many NBA owners own NHL teams and saw how much good losing the season did to getting their way and breaking the union. The NHL has been very profitable since — and it should be noted the salary cap has risen since the lockout ended so the players are getting a larger share of revenues.
Still immediately for the NBA’s players, they have to recognize that if this antitrust lawsuit fails, it is going to net them a much worse deal. That is the lesson the NHL players learned as they held out. Eventually the missed checks are going to hurt and the owners knew this from the start. The players may have done a better job preparing for the lockout, but they must know the inevitable will come eventually.
And when it does, there is going to be a lot of hurt. Just like there was when the NHL eventually got back to work.
Photo via hhof.com