In 1998, the owners faced a similar broken system. There was a soft salary cap in place, but Larry Bird rights enabled teams to sign players to ridiculous contracts. Shaquille O’Neal netted an 88 percent pay increase off his rookie contract in signing a nine-year, $172 million contract with the Lakers in 1996. A 22-year-old Kevin Garnett had just netted a five-year, $126 million deal just before the lockout commenced.
Much like in the current labor situation, owners are looking for more cost certainty. The big difference this time around might be how the players are handling.
Antawn Jamison, who was a rookie during the lockout-shortened 1999 season, said the players are much more prepared for the challenges a lockout imposes this time around than they were in 1998. The spectre of the 1998 lockout is hanging over both sides and even with no agreement both sides are very aware of the pitfalls the lockout more than 10 years ago created.
“I think in ’98-99, we didn’t think it would be a long, drawn out process,” Jamison said to the Associated Press. “Just the unity, the guys understanding what we’re facing and what we’re up against is totally different than what it was when I first got into the league.”
Jamison noted that in 1998 players and owners were saying one thing to each other and often doing another. That kind of combativeness really made fans turn on the league. It did not help that millionaire players also played the “woe is me” card behind some famous comments from then union-president Patrick Ewing.
There should not be any of that this time around.
Despite the announcement of the lockout, Billy Hunter, Adam Silver and David Stern spoke glowingly about the other side and promised to return to negotiating in a few weeks. That did not happen in 1998 where there was clear tension in the room when the players spoke with owners. The owners might be asking for a lot but things do not appear to be getting personal — at least not yet.
Players are certainly more prepared now. Jamison said the players union is hoping to set up gyms nationwide where players can practice, train and receive treatment. The players are walking into this lockout much more prepared.
Of special note is the lack of stars on the executive committee. Chris Paul is the only All Star represented on the union’s executive committee and most player representatives are not superstars — Kevin Durant is the only other star that I can think of that is a team union rep. Unlike in 1998 where the stars were staring down major salary decreases in the new maximum contract, this is very much a negotiation for the role players.
And unlike in 1998, it seems like the players are completely unified behind this cause to maintain several of the benefits they have previously bargained for. There is not much dissension in the ranks this time around and every player seems more willing to sacrifice than before.
“We’re going to stand up for what we have to do, no matter how long it’s going to take,” Durant told The Associated Press. “No matter how long the lockout’s going to take, we’re going to stand up. We’re not going to give in.”
That was not the case in 1998 when many players thought it would be a quick negotiation and they would be playing on time. The union is ready to fight this time around.
Photo via DayLife.com.