David Stern has already presided over one major work stoppage in his time as NBA commissioner. He came under heavy criticism for how he handled the lockout in 1998-99 that saw the season delayed until January.
That's not good.
What's worse is that, just 13 years later, he's allowed it to happen again, and the same end result is likely. Last time we saw canceled games, the players' union and the owners only came to an agreement on a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) the day before the absolute drop-dead date for any sort of season to take place.
The fear is that it'll be the same story only in a different year.
That's right, don't hope to see any hoops before Christmas.
Many experts think it could be another 12 weeks until either side makes an offer that has a serious chance of being agreed upon. This is a fairly likely possibility, as there are no more meetings scheduled between the sides—not now, not next week, not next month. Nothing was agreed upon in the last week that suggests that anything will change to allow basketball to be played in November or early December.
However, if the league and players were genuinely into getting back onto the courts, surely they would have scheduled as many meetings as they need to get a deal done. The two sides are not far apart, only around $120 million per year. If the league misses a month of games, the players will lose $333 million in salaries—almost triple the current amount being fought over.
This is a dark time for basketball fans. Hardcore fans will return when the sport does, and many casual fans will too. It's the fringe fans who will not return. If a deal is found soon, the lockout will be forgotten (the NFL had a lockout this summer?). If a deal is not found, these fringe fans will not come back. This happened in the few years after the last work stoppage, where attendances and viewing figures slumped for four years until a certain LeBron James entered the game.
There are plenty of other diversions for the fringe fan: the NFL is getting towards the meat of its season, and the MLB playoffs are here.
It's in the best interests of the owners and players to make a deal before these fans abandon the sport. After the season we just witnessed, it would be completely illogical to cancel much of this season. Attendances and viewer ratings were through the roof with decade-high viewer numbers throughout the playoffs.
Cancelling games and losing fans really seems like one step forward, two steps back.
Yet, it's still not surprising. It's been two years since negotiations on a new bargaining agreement began.
According to union executive Billy Hunter:
"It goes back to a comment that David said to me several years ago, when he said this is what my owners have to have," Hunter said on Monday after negotiations failed and the opening fortnight of the season was cancelled. He continued “And I said, ‘Well, the only way you’re going to get that is, you prepare to lock us out for a year or two.’ And he’s indicated to me that they’re willing to do it. So my belief and contention is that everything that he’s done has demonstrated that he’s following that script."
Essentially, Hunter says the NBA team owners are going to need to cancel the whole of this season, and probably next, before the players relent to what they currently demand in a deal. If the league loses a season, both sides will collectively lose $4 billion. Not to mention the many billions more lost in sponsorship and television rights deals.
This saga is by no means over, and basketball in 2011 is slowly being pushed towards the abyss.