Miami Heat power forward Chris Bosh (bottom) and Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler reach for a rebound in the first half of Game 6 of their NBA finals in Miami on June 12. When will we see them in action again? David J. Phillip / Reuters
A lockout appears imminent at the end of this month as players and owners struggle to reach a new CBA agreement, and that can only be bad for the sport.
Within the space of a mere 18 days, the National Basketball Association (NBA) could go from its brightest moment of the season to its darkest period since the strike-shortened season of 1998-1999.
As the plucky Dallas Mavericks hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy on June 12 - after defeating the Miami Heat to win the NBA finals 4-2 - a specter of impending doom also hung in the air as labor negotiations between the NBA Players' Association and the league and owners appear to have reached an impasse. That means a lockout looms when the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expires on June 30.
To probably over-simplify the matter, the owners claim they are losing money hand over fist and want to implement a hard salary cap and dramatically cut the salaries of the players.
Not surprisingly, the athletes are not too keen on taking a pay cut which, according to some reports, has been mooted in the region of 50 percent. Another of America's big leagues, the NFL, is in lockdown mode right now, but nobody is crying poor in the gridiron world as the players and owners fight over how to divvy up the billions of dollars the league earns.
While the situations are almost polar opposites, the NBA is watching closely how things transpire in the NFL.
NBA commissioner David Stern said last month that he wanted to keep the matter out of the courts, but that appears highly unlikely after meetings in Dallas and Miami between the relevant parties apparently saw them grow even wider apart.
Stern, a former lawyer, knows which side his bread is buttered on though and is firmly in the camp of the owners and claims the league (read owners) is projected to lose $300 million this year.
The league's original CBA proposal sought to reduce player salary costs by $750 million a year.
"The owners deserve the right to profit off their own investments," Stern said.
However, the players scoffed at that initial proposal made last year and were no more impressed with a "new" one in May, which the association claimed was still too much like the original.
"Unfortunately, the proposal is very similar to the proposal the league submitted over a year ago," union president and Los Angeles Laker Derek Fisher told ESPN.com. "This last proposal doesn't look close to what we were expecting."
Any form of lockout by the NBA which reduced or canceled the 2011-2012 season would be disastrous for a league which has continued to go from strength to strength under Stern's reign and might be the most popular competition worldwide.
Not only would the owners and players take hits to their hip pockets (although I am sure they could survive on their millions), but the fans who have stuck by the sport would be hurt too. Not just by missing out on the spectacle known as the NBA and watching their favorite teams play, but also because any extended lockout could see the premature end of some all-star careers.
Hall of Fame-bound stars like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash might follow in the giant footsteps of Shaq O'Neal and call it a day if most or all of next season is lost.
The Mavs had a grand finale last week, but there would be no grand final tour for those greats of the game.
That's hardly fair, but it's the price you pay for labor pains.