We’re all reading the tea leaves to figure out how close we are to a deal between the NBPA and the NBA owners. One way to get a sense of what’s going on is to examine the NBA’s last lockout, which was solved by the very same parties at the negotiating table today.
Below is an exceptionally detailed outline of what happened way back in 1999.
After scrolling through this list, consider how many negative signs (court cases, cancellations, unconstructive meetings) the negotiation process encountered by late September of 1999.
One major difference between this lockout and the last one is that in 1999, the players were waiting around to see if they could be paid during a lockout, which would significantly increase their leverage. Waiting for that ruling kept the two sides from engaging as seriously (or desperately?) as they should have. By the time that fell through, the two had to go back to the drawing board. Both sides seem to be more cordial and prepared to deal in this year’s talks.
A final note: when you read through this chronology of events, it seems impossible that the players would have gotten a deal that just 12 years later, would be deemed economically unviable by owners. Just more evidence that, despite much opinion to the contrary, Billy Hunter is really good at getting a strong deal for the players.
1998-99 NBA LOCKOUT CHRONOLOGY
- June 22, 1998 – The last of nine in-season negotiating sessions ends after 30 minutes, with players stating they will not listen to any proposals that include a “hard” salary cap.
- June 30, 1998 – League announces a lockout will commence July 1. Player’s union files grievance with arbitrator John Feerick, asking that players guaranteed contracts be paid during the lockout.
- July 1, 1998 – Owners imposed the third lockout in NBA history.
- August 1, 1998 (Day 31) – Collective bargaining talks resume, and owners walk out upon hearing the union’s new proposal after 90 minutes.
- August 26 – September 9, 1998 (Day 57-71)– Guaranteed contracts hearing held before arbitrator John Feerick.
- September 10, 1998 (Day 72) – The NBA cancels the first preseason game between Miami Heat and Maccabi Elite of Israel. This is the first game (exhibition or regular season) to be lost because lack of CBA.
- September 24, 1998 (Day 86) – NBA cancels 24 exhibition games. Suspends training camp.
- October 5, 1998 (Day 97) – NBA cancels remainder of preseason.
- October 8, 1998 (Day 100) – NBA and NBPA meet for 4 and half hours, make little progress.
- October 13, 1998 (Day 105) –The NBA officially cancels the first two weeks of the regular season (99 total games). Until then, the NBA was the only league to have never canceled a game due to a labor dispute.
- October 20, 1998 (Day 112) – Arbitrator John Feerick rules in favor of the owners, saying they do not have to pay guaranteed contracts during the lockout.
- October 26, 1998 (Day 118) – The infamous interview with Kenny Anderson and Patrick Ewing. Anderson is quoted saying, “I was thinking of selling one of my cars, I don’t need all of them. You know just get rid of the Mercedes.” Ewing, the President of the NBPA says, “we make a lot of money, but we spend a lot of money.” Oh no.
- October 28, 1998 (Day 120) – After a meeting of the full union membership at which the owners were invited to speak, the sides meet past midnight but fail to reach an agreement. Steve Kerr says the owners’ offer is “insulting” and Michael Jordan tells Wizards owner Abe Pollin, “if you can’t make a profit, you should sell your team.” (Irony alert!)
- November 3, 1998 (Day 126) – Original opening night of the 1998-99 season
- November 6, 1998 (Day 129) – At a 90 minute meeting, the NBPA does not deliver on a promised proposal to the owners.
- November 20, 1998 (Day 143) – Both sides meet for 13 hours. Billy Hunter says that there is significant progress between the two sides.
- December 4, 1998 (Day 157) – The two sides meet for 11 hours. Both sides says it’s more likely than not there won’t be a season.
- December 8, 1998 (Day 161) – NBA cancels 1999 NBA All-Star game in Philadelphia.
- December 19, 1998 (Day 172) –16 players including Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing participate in an exhibition game in Atlantic City. The event’s organizers (super agents David Falk and Arn Tellem) intended to give NBPA members a share of the money raised, but the idea proved publicly controversial, and charities ultimately received the proceeds.
- December 23, 1998 (Day 176) – Stern and Hunter meet for five hours at LA office of Leonard Armato. Stern recommends canceling the season if no agreement is reached by January 7, 1999.
- December 27, 1998 (Day 180) – Sides meet for five hours in Denver, with the NBA making it’s “final” proposal.
- December 30, 1998 (Day 183) – NBA sends the owners’ latest proposal to all NBPA members, asking they put it to a vote. The NBPA’s executive council rejects the idea of a vote, and announces the next day that it will submit its last offer to owners.
- January 4, 1999 (Day 188) — In first full negotiating session in nearly a month, union presents its “final” offer to owners, which is rejected by owners. Stern says league might use replacement players in the 1999-2000 season.
- January 5, 1999 (Day 189) – NBA players begin arriving in New York on eve of scheduled vote by union membership.
- January 6, 1999 (Day 190) – After a secret, all-night negotiating session, Stern and Hunter reach agreement to end the lockout the day before the league’s “drop-dead” date to cancel the season. The players ratify the agreement, 179-5.
- January 18, 1999 (Day 202) – Teams may begin signing free agents and making trades. Shawn Kemp weighs in at 290 pounds.
- January 20, 1999 (Day 204) – A new CBA is signed by both parties, ending the 204-day lockout. Notably, the new CBA capped player salaries, introduced a rookie cap, capped raises, raised the league’s minimum salary and kept the Bird exception and added new cap exceptions. Training camp begins.
- January 24, 1999 – Preseason games begin, with each team scheduled to play just two games.
- February 5, 1999 – NBA season, shortened to 50 games, begins.
A few ways the lockout impacted the NBA regular season:
- Only 50 NBA games were played, but NBA players packed those 50 into just 89 days. For comparison, the Boston Celtics played only 43 games in their first 89 days in 2010-11 season.
- 464 regular season games were lost
- Average attendance dropped 2.2% per game
- NBA saw TV ratings drop for three straight years
- Teams played multiple back-to-back-to-back games
- Teams went through several four games in five night stretches
Many thanks to an anonymous researcher for helping me put this together!