When we look back at the record books of the modern NBA era, the 1999 season will have an asterisk. That year the league played a shortened season of 50 games due to a lockout.
The 1998-1999 season would also coincidentally mark the end of one the greatest eras in basketball: the 1990s. That winter’s apocalyptic work stoppage would serve as a bad omen for many of the era’s greats and usher in a new crop of NBA talent. Remember, too, that once the NBA resumed play, teams were playing nearly every other night to get in as many games as possible – never a good thing for aging players’ knees, ankles and backs.
This list is not meant for players who were getting too old by ’99, but rather for guys who came back out of shape, unfocused, or generally apathetic to the idea of playing basketball.
Here is a list of the top 5 players most affected by the 1999 lockout:
5. Mitch Richmond
When Richmond came into the league, he was dubbed as one of the great pure shooters in the league and someone who could potentially compete with MJ as the best scorer around.
For his first three years in Golden State, he upheld that reputation, playing alongside Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin in the fast-paced attack known as RUN TMC. During his eight-year stint with the Sacramento Kings, he averaged right around 23 points per game and made every Western Conference All-Star team from 1993 to 1998. However, in May 1998, just before the lockout took effect, Richmond was traded, along with Otis Thorpe to the Washington Wizards for Chris Webber, a move that catapulted the Kings to the top of the West.
Though Mitch played in all 50 games of the shortened season, the 33-year-old’s scoring average would dip down to 19 points per game and would keep dropping over the last three years of his career, and he never made another All-Star team again.
Some redemption for Richmond would come in 2002, when he would win a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers.
4. Larry Johnson
Make no mistake about it, LJ was one of the most exciting and important players in the 1999 playoffs, playing a key role on the Knicks’ run to the NBA Finals. Who can forget the four-point play?
Once he made the move to the Knicks, he never quite regained the productivity he had with the Charlotte Hornets. His field goal percentage and points per game each took a tumble from 1998 to 1999, and it wasn’t because the Monstars stole his talent in Space Jam. (It was actually because of chronic back problems.)
Despite being a prominent force during the Knicks’ exciting Eastern Conference championship run, he’d make controversial headlines and anger Bill Walton when he equated the New York Knicks to a “band of rebellious slaves,” and say that he and Spurs’ guard Avery Johnson were “from the same slave plantation.” Larry Johnson, everybody!
3. Scottie Pippen
Once Michael retired after the 1998 championship, Scottie was traded to the Houston Rockets for Roy Rogers and a second round draft pick. He signed a max contract and teamed up with Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon.
However, the lockout-shortened season was disappointing for Pippen, who spent much of the year blasting Barkley. In an ESPN interview, Scottie said, “I probably should’ve listened to Michael a year ago when he said that Charles will never win a championship because he doesn’t show any dedication. He’s a very selfish guy. He doesn’t show the desire to want to win. That’s my reason for wanting to get away from playing with him, because he just doesn’t show the dedication.” Clearly, chemistry issues got in the way of what could have been a special team, and the Rockets bowed out to the Lakers in four games in the first round of the playoffs.
Within the next year, Scottie was on his way to Portland, where he’d help the Blazers get to the Western Conference Finals. All in all, Scottie’s half-season in Houston was a mere blip on an otherwise great career.
2. Shawn Kemp
Like Mitch Richmond, “The Reign Man” Shawn Kemp would make his last All-Star appearance in 1998. In his second season as a Cleveland Cavalier, Kemp’s stats were still strong (20.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg,) but he had clearly lost most of the explosiveness that had defined his career as a Seattle Supersonic. 29 years old, 9.7 million dollars, 275 pounds. The numbers didn’t exactly add up. In fact, Kemp’s weight became somewhat of a national obsession in February of 1999. Comedians like Jay Leno and David Letterman each weighed in on the subject and sports columnists frequently joked that Kemp had spent the entire six-month lockout at Wendy’s.
Despite not being able to finish like he used to, Kemp was able to alter his game, becoming more of a banger inside.
1. Vin Baker
Apparently, Vin Baker and Shawn Kemp shared many a late night trip to Wendy’s during the lockout. Baker, who had gone to four consecutive All-Star games, was part of a blockbuster four-team deal that sent him to the Seattle Supersonics prior to the 1997-98 season. During his first season there, Baker proved he was up to the task of replacing Kemp, averaging 19 points and eight rebounds, and ranking in the top five in field goal percentage, shooting 54 percent.
However, the lockout season would begin a downward spiral in not only Baker’s play on the court, but also his personal life. He came into training camp overweight, and thumb and knee injuries caused him to miss 16 games of the shortened season. Still only 27 years old, his scoring average dipped down to 13.8 a game, and the Sonics missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1989-90 season.
Alcohol problems, more weight issues, and suspensions helped play a role in Baker’s demise as his stints in Boston and then New York proved equally uneventful.
What do you think? Which player’s career was affected the most? Will this happen to anybody this time?
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