Lockout nightmare almost over for players longing to return to work
The NBA lockout is almost over with tentative agreement in place
Many players took to Twitter to voice their excitement over the deal
Union leaders expect the agreement to be well-received by players
Kevin Martin woke to the sound of a text message from his father early Saturday morning. Despite what one of his many former coaches had told him about nothing good ever happening in the latest of night-time hours, the news Martin's father relayed at 4:30 a.m. in Zanesville, Ohio, was nothing short of phenomenal for the Rockets shooting guard and anyone else who enjoys the NBA.
The lockout, albeit unofficially, was over.
"I had to turn on the NBA channel and then I realized that what [former Sacramento head coach] Reggie Theus said about nothing good happening after 2 a.m. wasn't so true after all," said Martin, the eight-year veteran who publicly called for an end to the lockout in early November. "I was just happy that there was a breakthrough and that we have a chance to do what we love to do."
So naturally, he did just that -- almost immediately. An hour later, Martin, who wasn't about to go back to sleep, was working out in his favorite local gym.
"It was finally a new day that felt like a dream instead of a nightmare," he said.
While there are still "B-list" issues to be resolved, a players' union to be reformed and a players vote to be had, the two sides came to a tentative agreement just after 3 a.m. ET and, in doing so, woke up a legion of players who were tired of not working. By the time progress was made in the latest marathon session (15 hours this time) in New York, even some of the players closest to the negotiations had adopted the "wake me up when it's over" approach to which so many fans can relate.
The call went out to members of the National Basketball Players' Association executive committee around 1 a.m., with executive director Billy Hunter, president Derek Fisher and vice president Maurice Evans eager to share the news that NBA owners had moved on most of the key system issues the players had prioritized. But not all the committee members were awake to take the call.
"Just four of us were still up and on the line," committee member Roger Mason told SI.com. "They let us know that the NBA came back with the majority of the [system] issues that we had and we just had to tackle the split [of basketball-related income]."
The split would get resolved, as Mason confirmed, by way of a band that will give players between 49 and 51 percent of the league's revenues, representing a giveback of $240 million to $320 million annually (players received a 57-percent split in the old collective bargaining agreement). In that respect and many others, this deal will be remembered as a blowout win for the owners who nearly blew up the season with their attempt to overhaul the system they say led to $300 million in losses last season. Instead, the first regular-season tipoff is expected on Christmas Day and a 66-game campaign will be under way.
While Mason was briefed on the deal but wouldn't specify which system issues were resolved to the players' liking, he expects it to be ratified by the players.
"I think the deal will be received well," he said. "I hear from the guys all the time -- that's my responsibility. And everyone that I have spoken to, their tone has been, 'Get us a fair deal.' So we went back and a lot of the issues that we had were rectified and I think the guys will be satisfied and ready to get back to work.
"It's a good feeling, but we still have the B-list issues to tackle. But the main issues we've agreed on, and that's a good feeling."
The agreement came just nine days after the NBPA announced it would disclaim interest, allowing players to file an antitrust lawsuit against the league that would potentially be worth treble damages. In the end, it appears the risky move forced the owners to move off their negotiating mark just enough at the end to push the deal through.
The "reset" offer that NBA commissioner David Stern had been threatening for weeks -- with a 47-percent split of BRI for players, a hard cap and salary rollbacks -- never came like he had promised and the players would finally make the sort of progress for which they had hoped. But according to Tulane Law School professor and labor expert Gabe Feldman, it's hard to assess the role that dissolving the union played.
"The impact and the validity of the disclaimer strategy remain the great unknowns," Feldman said. "The calendar and the prospect of additional missed paychecks and missed revenue were most likely the forces that got the deal done, but the dissolution of the union and the antitrust suit allowed the players to go on the offensive for the first time in the negotiations.
"Whether that had any impact on the timing or substance of the deal is tough to tell, but I suspect the disclaimer weapon will play a role in future labor negotiations."
But the players never would have been so inclined to go on the offensive had they not been so offended during these terse negotiations. For right or for wrong, the perceived disrespect coming from Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and the owners played a major part in the players' desire to fight back in such dramatic fashion rather than accept the ultimatum deal that had been put before them. All those hard feelings seemed to disappear, however, once the framework of the deal was agreed upon.
Mason shared his enthusiasm on Twitter not long after Stern and Hunter had spread the news in a joint press conference. "I love Christmas! How u," Mason tweeted, referring to his infamous, mid-September tweet of "Looking like a season. How u" that was widely misinterpreted to mean an agreement had been reached. More than that, though, it was a memorable moment that defined the real-time way in which this lockout unfolded.
"With this social media era now, everyone went through the lockout with a lot of the players and were able to give their feelings on it," Mason said.
He was one of many players who shared their excitement instantly on Twitter. Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant, who had been among the more vocal critics of the owners' recent proposals, tweeted, "If this is true I am Bouta go wake my mom n grandma up and put on a suit and thunder hat and cry! Please be true #nbaback." The Clippers' Blake Griffin provided some well-timed comedy, writing, "This must be how the guys in Space Jam felt when MJ gave them their powers back through that old basketball." Miami's LeBron James didn't chime in until it was nearly noon, tweeting, "Man I just got up not too long ago and see we have a deal! I feel like my kids on X-mas day! So juiced!! Excited for the fans that stayed patient with us! #NBAlove."
Free agent forward Shane Battier -- who had disappeared from the proceedings after questioning Hunter last June about whether he would take a salary during the lockout -- was more measured, tweeting, "I am happy it looks like we'll get to start winning our fans back. Thanks for the patience. Need to read new details before I pop the bubbly."
While the vote is likely to pass, frustration remained among some players. Some were of the opinion that the union should have gone on the offensive much earlier by decertifying in July. Others were frustrated with the inefficient and infrequent communication between the union, its players and their agents. The players missed their first paychecks on Nov. 15, with Kobe Bryant losing out more than the rest (an estimated $4.8 million of his $25.2 million salary for the 2011-12 season) and 400-plus players feeling the first financial sting.
Said one veteran player when asked if he wanted to comment publicly on the tentative agreement: "Should it be a positive quote, or a negative one bashing leadership for missing a check for no reason and agreeing to a deal that was essentially in place three months ago?"
Either way, the deal appears to be almost done. The league that was coming off a sensational season will have its storylines renewed, from the old dogs in Dallas and their title defense, to Miami's Big Three and the divide they create, to Durant's Thunder and their possible ascent to the top.
You can wake up now, NBA fans and players. The lockout nightmare is almost over.