I can remember the times in Portland, the skinny 12th man coming in for a few possessions every night, only to get pulled even if he did play well; The kid who had more of a baby face than Babyface. He’s gotten a little older, copped a few more tattoos and put a few more miles on his body. Now he’s 16 years in and one of the more accomplished veterans in the game. It all seems crazy and the time just flew by, but Jermaine O’Neal was always articulate and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind.
This week, he’s been participating in “The Lockout League” in Las Vegas, and actually caught a couple of highlights himself. But obviously, O’Neal’s attention – and probably most of the other guys as well – is on the lockout. As a veteran who’s lived through one lockout already, much of the National Basketball Players Association is leaning on him as a voice of reason. The younger players may not completely understand the details, the money issues and what’s at stake. Vets like O’Neal and Derek Fisher have to.
Besides proclaiming next year is probably his last, O’Neal recently vented his frustrations to USAToday.com on everything that’s going on:
What’s so unrealistic about the owners’ proposal?
You put in a system where every team profits? There’s no business structure in the world like that. … You can’t hold players hostage for decisions that have been made in the past. We hear that a lot from the league, “Guys aren’t living up to the contracts.” What do you do? Basketball is no different than any other workplace. You get guys that perform. You get guys that overperform. You get guys that go under, whether for injuries or whatever. It’s just one of those things.
Aside from the hard salary cap, you believe the lack of revenue sharing among owners is a major stumbling block?
Their debate is that teams are losing money. If you profit-share, the top-market teams, they’re going to pack the house, they have the highest ticket sales. I don’t understand your concerns if you’re telling us and the general public that you’re concerned about some of the lower-tier markets that are not profitable. Then just profit-share.
So you think the owners’ proposal seeks to eliminate the “middle class” in the NBA?
It’s bad timing overall. Every player wants to be playing. If the owners are going to just sit on the deal they’re proposing, then there’s just no way. Taking out the mid-level (exception to the salary cap) is going to ruin our game. It’s going to individualize our game so much. Basketball is based off a system. Everybody is given a role in the game. It’s not just everybody running up and down. We have some really good mid-level players in our league, borderline All-Star players. If you’re going to say, basically, we’re going to roll back salaries and we’re going to give two of the top players on the team the top deals and take out the mid-tier and let everybody else fend for the $1 million, $2 million, $3 million (shakes his head). … Doing that is going to make guys go for their own. It really is.
O’Neal speaks his mind throughout the entire interview (a great read), and makes sense virtually the whole way.
All of this lockout business seems stupid, selfish and pointless to us. We can’t relate given the economical differences and approach the game from an entertainment standpoint rather than a business one, and at times can be at the mercy of whichever agenda we’re listening to (both sides will always claim completely different things). But at the least, it’s good to know the players are actually considering the fans’ perspective.
Do you agree with O’Neal? How do you feel about the players in this lockout?
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