Nobody likes a lockout. And though we’re not entirely sure (yet!) how SLAM can help fix the current one, once upon a time—a few months short of 13 years ago, to be exact—we put our best foot forward and attempted to bridge the gap between the players and owners as the two struggled to get along. From SLAM 29 (October ’98), the feature below ran during the last NBA lockout, and it’s funny to see how things change. Or, you know, don’t.—Ed.
by Tony Gervino / @microtony
Here’s what we think: the lockout is going to end less than 48 hours before the regular season’s imperilment becomes a full-fledged work stoppage.
By then, the owners will have finished with their high-wire game of financial chicken, and the players, not unaccustomed to playing themselves into game shape anyway, won’t have to suffer the indignity of training camp and those pesky conditioning coaches.
Not to mention PJ, Pat and the boys working their lungs into shape.
Yet in an effort to mediate this dispute before we have to begin laying off employees ourselves [Editor’s note: just kidding, guys], SLAM has decided to make the ultimate sacrifice—and no, that no longer entails putting Reggie Miller’s wife’s husband on the cover.
We’re hereby offering our services as independent arbitrator.
Sure, It’s risky; potentially alienating both players and owners (not to mention the NBA folks who let us hang at the All-Star game and Finals and stuff) could be hazardous to SLAM’s health.
But we’re willing to do it because, just like Willow Bay, we love this damn game. How much?
ROOKIE SALARY SCALE
Introduced with the last Collective Bargaining Agreement in September ’95, the rookie salary scale prevents rooks from entering the show and signing mind-blowing deals before they’ve proven themselves (i.e. Shawn Bradley and his big $55-million-plus bones).
The new system puts salary limits on rookie contracts, dependent on draft position, but also limits the length of those contracts to three seasons.
Owners’ view: Three years isn’t long enough to determine a player’s worth. Or more accurately, two years isn’t long enough, since teams would need to re-sign their players after their second season or risk losing them to free agency after year three.
Several teams frightened by that scenario chose to trade away their youngsters instead, such as Golden State, Denver, and Toronto, who shipped off Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess and Damon Stoudamire, respectively.
Owners are now proposing a lengthening of the system to five years with restricted free agency in a sixth.
Players’ view: Reportedly, the players’ union is willing to negotiate on an extension of the rookie scale.
Although, the team-optional sixth year may be too much to swallow.
SLAM’s view: This one is easy: make rookie contracts five years, with a completely unrestricted sixth year at the player’s option.
That way, if he turns into a real samaki he can pocket some bonus gravy on his way to Turkey.
And who cares about rookies anyway? They’re 12 years old, they’ll get over it.
This issue will examine the league’s anti-drug agreement with regard to marijuana, as well as which avenues of disciplinary action the league will be allowed to take in the future.
Owners’ view: What with The New York Times reporting that 70 percent of NBAers toke up, plus players like Isaiah Rider, Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby and Chris Webber being caught with pot, the League wants to add marijuana to its list of banned substances.
Add to that the (alleged) felonious actions of players such as Anthony Mason, Cadillac Anderson and of course, Latrell Sprewell, and the owners have just about enough.
Although seemingly on the backburner in the negotiations, there’s little doubt that improving the NBA’s image is a big concern for management as the post-Jordan era looms.
Players’ view: The players haven’t said mucho on either topic, although union head honcho Billy Hunter has suggested that marijuana testing would give the owners too much control over players.
If the 70 percent figure is accurate, you can bet that 70 percent of the players are against testing as well.
SLAM’s view: The players need be prepared to give up on the drug-testing point. Two drug tests a season—one just before training camp and one just after Iverson’s “Posse Appreciation Day” party—seems reasonable.
Not because drug-testing’s the right thing to do—it seems sorta unconstitutional and kinda hypocritical, unless the League starts testing its announcers and Don Nelsons for Dewars and Stolichnaya—but because if the players appear to make an effort, maybe they can get some more TV dollars on the back-end.
Besides, it’s a lo-o-o-ng offseason, guys. Na’mean? And the league’s disciplinary action seems neither arbitrary nor capricious, save for one overly-lenient point: if a player lays his hand on a referee, he should gone for the season. Period. End of discussion.
(If, however, he lays a hand on Chris Childs, he’s eligible for tax-exempt status and a limited-edition SLAM t-shirt.)
SALARY CAP/BIRD RULE
When the owners and players negotiated their last contract, the agreement called for the players to receive at least 48 percent of all basketball-related income, which basically includes any money-making avenue you could possibly think of.
But the owners received an option to re-negotiate the deal if player salaries rose above 51.8 percent of that income.
This past season, owners claim that those salaries reached 57.2 percent, as 22 of the 29 teams shot past the $26.9 million team salary cap.
Owners’ view: With a number of teams having actually lost money this past season, the owners are looking for a more structured salary system.
The league claims they only want to slow down the growth of players’ salaries, but it is believed they long to completely phase out the Larry Bird exception, which allows players to re-sign with their own teams for any amount regard-less of the salary cap.
The exception, created over a decade ago to allow Legend to stay in Boston, is the reason Chicago could pay MJ more than $40 million in ’97-98.
Apparently, the NBA is looking to create a hard cap similar to the NFL’s.
Players’ view: The players don’t wan anything to do with a hard cap and are unwilling to give up the Bird rule.
As players union president Patrick Ewing pointed out, the owners already have “cost certainty”: If they don’t want to pay a player a certain amount, they don’t have to sign him.
“They are the ones with the checkbooks.”
SLAM’s view: This seems to be the toughest gap to bridge.
While Patrick Ewing speaks the truth—the owners are indeed the ones with the checkbooks—it seems disingenuous to think that Kevin Garnett’s $126 million contact won’t preclude T-Wolves ownership from retaining both Steph and Googs, or that KG getting $80 milly would send him straight into the poorhouse.
Some sort of structure needs to be in place—not necessarily a hard cap, but at least a harder one—so horrific accidents like Juwan Howard will never happen again.
The Larry Bird exemption stays, though. To qualify, a player must have at least eight years under his belt and have lost to the Chicago Bulls at least once in the Finals. Or at least the former.
Now was that so difficult?
Jay Richards contributed to this story.