Sports for which mass gatherings of people act as lifeblood are concerned at present, hoping suspension of play will be a one-off event rather than the beginning of a wave of economy rattling pandemics. To get an idea of how the NBA will deal with such a scenario we need to look to history and to the four previous times the league has ground to a standstill, albeit for very different reasons. There are clues to be gleaned from these past lockouts that will point towards how the NBA will rise from the ashes.
The 1995 and 1996 Lockouts
The NBA was only inaugurated post Second World War so benefited from a decades long period of uninterrupted growth and success; this made its first lockout all the more dramatic. However, its impacts were only felt by those working within the game rather than fans, as no games were actually called off. This was the first instance in the league’s history of burgeoning franchises and their wealthy owners flexing their financial muscles in an attempt to loosen regulations. Eventually an agreement was reached, and fans were oblivious to the crisis that had been averted during the off-season.
Although the 1996 lockout is officially recognized, it barely registered on news radars at the time due to it lasting a matter of hours. On this occasion the point of contention was how television rights revenue was shared, an issue that continues to rumble on to this day along with other rights tie-ins involving everything from sports wagering firms to toothpaste manufacturers. What both the ’95 and ’96 lockouts showed was that when teams and league officials put their heads together, they were able to act fast and get results, an experience that will hold the league in good stead when the virus clears and NBA Championship odds are reactivated.
The 1998-99 Lockout
This lockout was a far more serious affair than its predecessors and centered around the NBPA disagreeing with franchise owners about what percentage of a team’s overall revenue should be spent on player wages. What ensued was a drawn out game of cat and mouse resulting in the regular season being reduced to just 50 games and the NBA All Star game being cancelled. The most important thing to be drawn from all this is that when greed becomes endemic it can paralyze an organization, which means that in the future financial sacrifices will have to be made by many when the NBA resumes.
The 2011 Lockout
The last lockout to curse the league was the one that took place in 2011 during which less game time was sacrificed as negotiations thundered on, but which did cause enough uncertainty that many players jumped ship. This had a profound effect on those in charge of the league, who realized that basketball did exist outside of the US and that if the NBA hierarchy weren’t careful their precious brand could be damaged. Ultimately this shows that caring for the whole NBA community – including treating players, fans and owners as equals who show each other respect – can avert any long-term crisis.
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