NHL lockout was disturbingly similar to NBA counterpart

Bruce Bennett

Not all pro sports work stoppages are created equal, but the lockouts that fell upon the NHL and NBA in the last two years were bizarrely identical in nature.

It's almost as if David Stern and Gary Bettman shared notes. It's almost like Donald Fehr and Billy Hunter both have copies of Leading A Union Of Millionaires Through A Lockout For Dummies. The NBA and NHL lockouts were disturbingly similar on many points. (It's worth noting that a number of NHL owners are also NBA owners.)

Relying on Travis Hughes' superlative NHL lockout timeline, we see that:

* The threat of a lockout built over years. This wasn't something sprung upon either side. In both leagues, the lockout was destined from years away, and it still cost real live regular-season games and ungodly billable attorney hours.

* The leagues brought their most ridiculous offers to the starting line. In the NBA lockout, the league wanted to move from 57 percent of revenue going to players to less than 40 percent. The NHL wanted to move it in a similar range. The final deals were nowhere even remotely close to those numbers. But that didn't stop the leagues' commissioners from starting the negotiations deep in their own territory.

* Legal challenges by the unions were pursued, and failed miserably. The NBA union tried to get the federal labor relations board to rule against the league. It never happened. (Slow are the wheels of regulation.) The NHL union tried to get provincial Canadian labor boards to deem the lockout illegal. Nope. Didn't work.

* Decertification or a disclaimer of interest in the union: a nice threat, utterly useless in practice.

* There was dissension in the owner ranks. In the NHL, the Boston Bruins' owner apparently had it out with others. In the NBA, there were reports of big-market owners wanting to end the stoppage and get back on the court.

* Efforts at mediation didn't work ... until they did. The NBA owners and union struggled to keep mediators around. So did the NHL, though mediators worked through the deal in the end.

* Players used other leagues as a threat. In basketball, the threat was so absurd that only one All-Star caliber player (Deron Williams) actually went overseas. The case was different in the NHL, where there was a mass exodus.

* There was an obvious goal for getting back in action. In the NBA, it was the traditional Christmas Day slate. In hockey, it was the Winter Classic. The NBA succeeded in saving Christmas -- Dec. 25 actually became opening day. The NHL missed the Winter Classic by about a month. In this way, the NHL lockout was similar to the 1998-99 lockout, which just barely succeeded in saving the season, period.

* The players won the PR battle. Is this a new thing? I wasn't old enough to follow media reaction in 1998, but it seems as though players got more favorable coverage in the NBA and NHL lockouts. In the corporate world's war on labor, are folks starting to understand the plight of organized employees? I don't know, and based on Wisconsin, I wouldn't think so. But I find it interesting that you were much more likely to find a writer being critical of owners during the NBA and NHL lockouts than not.

* The little things don't matter. Outside of one or two critical issues, it's all just fluff. In the NHL, the key issues were the revenue split and make-whole provision. In the NBA, it was the revenue split and luxury tax penalties. All the other dozens of issues -- drug testing, draft eligibility, etc. -- were non-issues. (Some of those issues from the NBA lockout still haven't been resolved.)

* Sports are business. Cold, hard business. If you ever try to forget that, your favorite league will smack you right in the face with the truth.

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