NHL fans can understand pain of NBA fans


If you’ve been paying attention to the NBA’s labor woes, this statement should sound familiar:

“Unfortunately, we lose less money by not playing, and we know if we were to try to continue to play we would lose franchises and be in terrible, terrible shape. We are out of gas.”

And you’ll probably think you’ve heard this before, from a player involved in the collective bargaining process:


“It’s interesting that we’re supposed to enter into a partnership that starts with a lockout.”

Sounds like any of a dozen comments made by NBA Commissioner David Stern and National Basketball Players Assn. President Derek Fisher since the NBA locked players out on July 1.

But those quotes came from the archives, not recent headlines.

They were uttered on Sept. 15, 2004, the first by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the second by Trevor Linden, president of the NHL Players Assn., after NHL owners locked players out.

That dispute lasted 310 days and ended only after owners radically overhauled the economic system to get a salary cap for the first time, a 24% rollback on existing contracts, an escrow system and other controls. NHL owners were considered the winners but soon found loopholes in the new agreement and got themselves in trouble again. But that’s another problem for another day.

We who spend much of our time in cold hockey rinks feel the pain currently afflicting basketball fans.


We saw the lockout of 1994-95 cut the season to 48 games and, 10 years later, watched the NHL make dubious history by becoming the first major professional sports league to cancel an entire season.

We’ve heard the rhetoric before. We’ve seen the pie charts illustrating how much revenue goes to players and why owners are supposedly losing buckets of money.

We heard the NHL claim 20 of its 30 teams lost money in the 2003-04 season and claim cumulative losses of $497 million in the two seasons before it shut its doors. It’s eerie to hear NBA executives say nearly the same thing, claiming that 23 of their 30 teams were in the red for cumulative losses of $300 million last season.

And we’ve heard the cry “never” from players about accepting a rigid cap system. The main difference between the NHL in 2004 and the NBA now is that hockey had no cap then but the NBA has a soft cap and a luxury tax that owners want to turn into a hard cap.

NHL players proposed accepting a luxury tax, a rollback on entry-level salaries and an overall salary giveback that they said would total $100 million instead of adopting the dreaded cap.

“If they come back with a salary cap there probably will be no season,” Ottawa Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson, a member of the NHLPA’s negotiating committee, said on Dec. 9, 2004.

Three months later Steve Rucchin, a union representative and center for the then-Mighty Ducks, said of the proposed cap, “To me this is not even a proposal. It’s total utopia for the owners.”

Funny how that non-proposal became reality after a season’s worth of missed paychecks.

When about 35 NBA players met in Las Vegas last week, they were vehemently opposed to their league’s hard-cap proposal.

“That’s a slap in the face,” Clippers forward Ryan Gomes told

“No way will there be a hard cap,” Phoenix Suns small forward Jared Dudley said.

Deja vu all over again, eh?

NBA players have apparently agreed to cut their share of basketball-related income from 57% to 53% and say they’re united in not retreating on key issues. “There’s not a fracture or separation in this group,” Fisher told The Times’ Lance Pugmire.

That’s what the NHL players said too, until their union splintered and they lost the ideological war.

“We started the fight because we didn’t agree with the introduction of salary caps,” forward Jaromir Jagr, then with the New York Rangers, told a Czech hockey website. “Now, we’ll be happy to get them. We didn’t expect the owners to be so tough and persistent. It was a risk that didn’t pay off.”

There’s no telling how this will end for the NBA. No matter who wins, just like in the NHL labor dispute, the sure losers are the fans. Been there, felt that pain.