The NHL sacrificed an entire season to get the deal they wanted from the players. It was draconian, it was brutal, it was effective. For months, there have been rumors and speculation that the NHL lockout provided a template for the NBA owners. If the NHL could effectively reset everything back to zero, perform a complete realignment, and then walk out as a legitimate sports league that at least in some senses in thriving, why can't the NBA?
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman joined Yahoo! Radio to discuss the NHL and the correlation between its lockout and the current NBA lockout which is currently threatening the entirety of the 2011-2012 season. Our own Brian Stubits of Eye on Hockey caught the appearance and transcribed quotes for us. The theme is pretty simple. First, Bettman discussed how painful the lockout is for everyone involved. Players, owners, workers, everyone.
"Any time you have a work stoppage for any length of time in any sport or any business, it's very painful. There are the people that are involved, there are the people that are indirectly involved and in a sports context, you've got the fans.Well, I'm sure it was comforting to arena workers to know the commissioner felt the pain for them. But Bettman's comments on not having a choice is the same kind of ideology at play in the NBA. Justifying brutal negotiating tactics that cause job losses and hurt fan interest is easier when you claim there was no alternative. Bettman elaborated on how losing an entire season was unavoidable.
"It was very painful for us when we lost the season. We didn't have a choice. We had some pretty fundamental problems. And in our case, I'm not necessarily suggesting it's a template for anybody else, we came back stronger. We were back stronger than ever on Day 1 because our fans understood that we had problems and that they had been addressed in collective bargaining and that gave us great optimism for the future.
"But a work stoppage is painful for everybody, in any context."
Bettman was asked if he would tell the NBA owners the pain of losing an entire season was "worth it" for what the owners gained from the process:
"Well I wouldn't be presumptions enough to tell an NBA owner anything at this point. But our case, and that's the only thing that I can address, we didn't have a choice. We needed a new system. We needed to change our circumstance, our model. Without that, I'm pretty sure we couldn't have continued.And that's how the NBA will justify the damage they have done and will do to the league. That they had no alternative. If you remove your options, you can claim that you were "forced" into the desperate and extreme measures you undertook.
"So in our case we did what we felt was absolutely necessary. We've come back stronger and people believe the game and the business of the game has never been better. But again, that was our circumstance six years ago and it would be presumptious for me to suggest to the NBA or any other league what they should be doing."
This is the model the NHL has given the NBA.