Saturday, July 2, 2011

On This Day, July 2nd: NBA Lockout Day 2


The work stoppage had just begun, but FOX and CBS were already licking their chops at the possibility to start a new league to combat the locked out National Basketball Association. Danny Schayes, the Orlando Magic's representative for the players' union, discussed the chances of that happening with L.C. Johnson.

The interest seemed to be surprisingly high to at least have an exhibition tour, but there wasn't much commitment. Over 150 NBA free agents (including Michael Jordan who had not retired yet) with just a little over 300 other players being under contract is quite the competitive ratio to deal with.

Then you had Larry Guest who would have bet his own house that there would be games missedDavid Stern still wasn't viewed as a very powerful commissioner at this point by the players. The players were stubborn and egotistical enough to believe that Stern was a figurehead that could be pushed around. Boy would they be wrong. Maybe now at 68-years-old Mr. Stern will lack the patience he had 13 years ago.

For better or worse, The Commish has already stated that he will not grow out another lockout beard. Fans were already growing fearful as Magic season ticket renewal was only at 54%. Part of it was the future of the team and if they could continue to compete, but remember, Orlando was still at the top of the league in attendance. At least season ticket deposits for the inaugural 1999 summer season of the Orlando Miracle were coming along nicely.

Finally, there's the baseball lockout in 1994 rearing its head into the issue and how not much was accomplished during that players' strike. America's pastime was still recovering, 4 years later from the popularity it had lost throughout the nation. If the most popular game (at that time) was dealt a heavy blow, you could only imagine how much the NBA would suffer in regaining favor with casual fans. 

The diehards of any team or sport will remain, but it's those casual fan dollars that are difficult to regain. Denny Neagle, former Atlanta Braves pitcher, of all people had the mindset to ask, what if Michael Jordan retires? Well, we would find out what kind of impact that would have.

``A billion dollars was lost [by owners and players combined], and nothing really changed,'' Los Angeles Dodgers President Peter O'Malley said after it was all over.

If NBA power brokers don't realize the dangers of a shutdown, they weren't paying attention to what was happening in baseball four years ago.

The strike lasted 234 days, longest in the history of professional sports.

For the first time in 90 years, a World Series was canceled.

An injunction issued by a U.S. District judge against owners for unfair labor practices paved the way for players to end their strike, but when they returned to the field, nothing was resolved.

Eventually a new basic agreement was signed.

The games went on, and fans made their feelings known by staying away from ballparks.

During the first season after the shutdown, baseball attendance dropped 28.5 percent from the pre-strike level of 1993. Baseball's national television ratings slid by about 29 percent.

``The fans had been dumped on one too many times,'' longtime Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman said.

Atlanta Braves General Manager John Schuerholz said fans were filled with ``uncertainty, anger and, worst of all from the point of view of the people in baseball, apathy.

``They reworked the routines of their lives in ways that didn't include baseball.''Braves pitcher and union representative Tom Glavine, in St. Petersburg for the interleague series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, doesn't know all the details of the NBA dispute, but he sees parallels.

``They have four months to get something done,'' Glavine said.

``You hope they don't wait until the last minute. If one good thing comes out of what happened to us, it's a good example of what not to do.

``Hopefully, the owners and players will see what damage we did and do whatever they can to not let that happen to basketball.''

Braves pitcher Denny Neagle pointed out another danger.

``They have to watch it. The No.1 thing they have to look at is: What if Michael Jordan retires?'' Neagle said. ``He's one of the biggest things that ever happened to basketball.

``Now if he's gone, and with this labor dispute, it could turn off a lot of people, and basketball could struggle.''

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