1998 NBA Lockout
from the Infoplease Sports Almanac...
by Gerry Brown
The NBA owners, who forced the NBA lockout that as of October 26, have led to the cancellation of the entire preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season, got a huge victory in their ongoing battle with the players' union when arbitrator John Feerick decided in their favor on October 19.
Feerick, dean of Fordham Law School, ruled that the owners were not compelled to pay the 224 players who filed a grievance claiming that all players with guaranteed contracts should be paid during the lockout. The two sides are fighting over several issues but the dispute is primarily about how much money the owners will devote to player salaries.
The owners say that salaries have gotten out of control and they are now outpacing revenues. They want a new agreement that will limit payroll costs. The players' union had vowed to oppose any deal that includes a "hard" salary cap. The previous deal included the so-called "Larry Bird exception" which allowed teams to exceed the salary cap to resign their own free agents.
The bargaining position of the owners was significantly strengthened with Feerick's decision. They have large amounts of money already saved and the owners will still get the money from the NBA's new television contract while the players must make do with what little money is in the union's fund.
"The players will not back down," union director Billy Hunter said. "The sooner the owners realize this and end the lockout, the quicker we can avoid enormous damage to the sport of basketball."
The players met in Las Vegas to decide what their best course of action was. A potential ace-in-the-hole for the players could be a decertification of the union. Decertification would mean that a court injunction, if granted, would end the lockout and the owners would open camps and impose new work rules.
If the new rules were more restrictive than the old ones, which is what the owners want, then the players could file an antitrust suit against the league. Players with long-term contracts could very well benefit from decertification since they would begin to draw their salaries soon. However, free agents and players who have been in the league less than three years would be forced to play under the new rules until the antitrust suit is settled, which could be several years.