Nov. 3, 1998


The NBA lockout was intangible through its first 125 days. By late September, there may have been a sliver of urgency among the most hard-core fans, particularly those who had already put their money down  for season tickets.

Day 126 was another story. The Celtics were scheduled to play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Those fans who truly cared would have settled for Marlon Garnett and Popeye Jones walking through that door.

The reason for the lockout was as simple as it gets: The owners wanted to pay players less money.

What the owners failed to articulate was their obvious, transparent system of overpaying players, causing some of them to teeter on the brink of financial ruin.

Well, some teams may have flirted with insolvency. Most didn’t; they merely passed along their problems to the public, and did their best to optimize the return on their TV rights and other off-court revenue.

As we say whenever this topic arises: Not one player, or agent, ever walked into team’s offices with a weapon in one hand and an empty satchel in the other.

When a professional athlete is offered millions of dollars to play, he/she cannot be expected to decline a portion of his/her salary. 

Commissioner David Stern eventually put a Jan. 7 deadline for the players to sign a new  agreement or kiss the season – and their pay – good-bye.

So the players got together and accepted the owners’ proposal on Jan. 6, 1999.

Attendance sagged, as did TV ratings.

And the Celtics went 19-31.

For Boston, the lockout may have been the preferred course.