NBA lockout to linger on

President of the National Basketball Association players' association, Derek Fisher, arrives for...

President of the National Basketball Association players' association, Derek Fisher, arrives for contract negotiations between the NBA and the players association in New York June 30, 2011. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

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, Last Updated: 12:40 PM ET

TORONTO - As we approach what would be the start of the NBA summer league, we are reminded of the loss of games that are at stake if a deal between the league and the players union cannot be reached by the start of the season.

A grim reality that has haunted fans for years as rumors seemed to mythically predict a standoff of epic proportions. The foretold devastation seemingly conditioned players, coaches, writers, analysts and fans to come to terms with the fact a repeat of the summer 1998 - when the league last went into a lockout - was very likely.

It may be early, but a look into the past suggests this current dispute will not be resolved in a similar manner to the last work stoppage.

Think back to the end of the 1998 season. It's a year that's hard to forget for even the most fleeting basketball fan, Michael Jordan's famed shot over Byron Russell to clinch his second three-peat to ride off into the sunset retiring at the top of the game - ignoring his brief comeback attempt of course.

Business was booming, television ratings were high and slowly basketball players were becoming the most recognizable athletes in the world. It couldn't have been a better time for the NBA from a popularity perspective, but financially things weren't structured in a way that was most beneficial to the league.

Though the lockout was definitely on the horizon at the time, it never seemed to be as unavoidable as the current labor dispute. A look back at the players and it becomes evident they weren't prepared to take the hit when a deal wasn't reached.

Opting to call the owners bluff, the players union took a huge risk not coming to terms on a new deal, as players stopped receiving pay checks the need for an agreement to be reached apparently became more crucial.

The players take on the lockout was a bizarre look into how disconnected they were from the average fan. Justification for the astronomical salaries ranged in levels of absurdity, some as asinine as was once eloquently explained by then NBAPA president Patrick Ewing, "Sure, we make a lot of money, but we spend a lot, too," summing up where the union stood in the matter.

Subsequently, division within the union forced the union to come to a deal - higher paid players were most affected by the proposed deal - that has historically been regarded as a victory for the owners and David Stern .

The owners were looking for a way to curb the increasingly obscene salaries and limit their own frivolous spending habits. A rushed deal put together 206 days after the strike began would give the 29 owners at the time just that, ending what was the first time in the leagues history any games were lost due to labor dispute, despite it being the third lockout in NBA history.

The NBA couldn't have been more popular and yet with a flash all it had accomplished in the previous 20 years - building the brand, raising from irrelevance in the 70's to the glory of the 80's and 90's - seemed to go to waste as the damage done to the ratings in the shortened season suggested the league couldn't capture the audience like it had just 12 months prior.

It would take nearly five years before the league felt the promise it had possessed prior to the lockout.

In the media age of today, it seems unlikely the average player would be so out of touch with the current economic hardships the entire world has endured over the past few years to not recognize how their refusal to play may be seen as another instance of millionaires squabbling over revenue sharing issues and millions of dollars.

There are no questionable quotes or out of tune opinions from players, so far, the initial reaction has been quite telling that this breed of NBA player has been preparing for the worst, much like fans, for quite some time.

Players like Kevin Durant and Antwan Jamison, union representatives for their respective teams, have come out and spoken about what it will take for the players to get back on the court. There seems to be an overwhelming assurance that this time around the players will not take less than they're asking for and if the cost of getting what they're requesting is the loss of the entire season, then so be it.

Whether this is just the scare tactics from the players to show the lengths they're willing to stretch in order to come to agreeable terms remains to be seen, but the perception such a scenario is being considered suggests this lockout will not be hastily resolved like the last labor dispute.

With the NBA claiming 23-of-30 teams are currently operating at a loss, there is certainly grounds for the owners to gripe. Yet surprisingly enough, the major issues revolve around familiar areas of concern - lowering max contracts, reducing the number of guaranteed years on contracts and implementing a tougher salary cap - appearing to be another case of the owners looking for a way to protect themselves from, essentially, themselves.

Fitting, how the conclusion of the highest rated NBA Playoffs in the cable era might be as tragic as the heartache suffered following what was a magical run by the Chicago Bulls and the leagues television ratings.

In a season that was a testament to the vast progress the league has made - returning to the forefront of the sports world, essentially becoming a more relevant entity in pop culture with the commercial success of LeBron James reaching further than your average sports junky and the globalization of the game on full display as Dirk Nowitzki raised the Larry O'Brien trophy along with a NBA Finals MVP - the possibility of losing games may hinder all the progress made since the last lockout and return basketball to the lowly depths it found itself at the start of 1999.


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