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Lockout could be apocalyptic event for Thunder

Impending work stoppage dangerous for fledgling OKC team

Clark Matthews March 16th, 2011

Things could not be going much better for the Thunder organization. It has two of the brightest stars in the league, just acquired the big man it has coveted for years, and is lauded as a potential dynasty. Most importantly, the market is absolutely in love with the franchise.

While the team is the talk of the town, little of that talk has been about the foreboding event that could ruin everything.

Right now, the Thunder/ Oklahoma City relationship is in the honeymoon stage. We all expected things to be a little rocky at first, and the first season’s 23-59 record was exactly that.

Then, when the second season showed marked improvement and a scrappy playoff challenge, it was like honeymooners who find out the husband can cook: unexpected.

Of course, the success of the current season is settling into a routine, but projections for next season would be akin to the husband disappearing while his co-workers spread rumors of him having an affair.

Anyone who covers the NBA is predicting a labor stoppage in 2011. The league owners are primed to take advantage of the global economic slowdown — despite the weird fact that their sport has been oddly immune to the damage — to break the player’s union. Among their demands are that players take a one-third pay cut on current contracts, accept a hard cap and free-agency limitations, and allow contraction. Meanwhile, the players ask mostly for the status quo.

As would be expected when one side holds all bargaining chips and asks for the moon, there is little chance of reaching agreement. Eventually, the owners will “lockout” the players and until they finish their collective bargaining, there will be no basketball. It could destroy an entire season.

above NBA Commisssioner David Stern

The owners are looking at the lost revenues in the short term as being worthwhile to fix the system in the long term. However, for Oklahoma City and the Thunder, it could be far more damaging.: the first time this market truly has to gut out a disappointment from its first professional franchise.

Making matters worse is that this region is extremely anti-union. “Right to work” passed in this state overwhelmingly and only a small minority currently has sympathy for the teachers protesting for their collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. With NBA players making millions, the citizens comprising the Thunder fan base could turn quickly on the guys they cheer for.

As much as those anti-union fans will side with the owners in the negotiations, it is still the players they pay to see. Hard feelings toward those guys, and season tickets (and the momentum of building the fan base) sales will regress. If the bargaining war turns the fans against the players, Thunder ownership risks losing far more long term than they gain by breaking the union.

Matthews is an editor of local news and entertainment blog

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