Charles Grantham, former director of the players' union, thinks common sense will end the NBA lockout in mid-December, leaving a shortened but unusually competitive season.
"The quality will be improved in a 50- or 60-game season," he said Tuesday. "The games will be more important. The guys will be up."
Explaining that owners are trying to protect long-term investments and players are fighting for more immediate rewards, Grantham predicts a side benefit arising from an eventual settlement.
"You won't have the wear-and-tear factor, and the players will be recovered from the last 100-game season, which the body was not built to withstand," said Grantham, executive director of the union from 1988 to 1994. "If they play it, you may see the best NBA basketball season ever."
The sides have not had full-scale bargaining in two weeks, and it is now clear the season cannot begin before mid-December.
The union's negotiating committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday in New York to discuss whether to put forth a new proposal for a collective bargaining agreement.
"Everybody knows there's a definite `drop-dead' date as to when you can't get a season in. Certainly, it's before Christmas," Grantham said. "Do I think they'll cancel the season? I don't know. I can't be sure.
"I think the owners are prepared to do it to protect their business for the long haul, but I think there will be an agreement and we will have basketball."
Grantham resigned abruptly from his union post after negotiating the no-strike, no-lockout agreement that allowed the 1994-95 season to be played.
The league then imposed a lockout that lasted though the summer of 1995, and it ended with the players voting against decertifying their union and in favor of accepting a six-year deal negotiated by Simon Gourdine, who succeeded Grantham.
"The players thought that was going to be a six-year deal, but in reality the owners knew it ould be only a three-year deal," Grantham said. "That deal also instituted the rookie salary scale and tightened a soft salary cap, and now it's a question of whether the players will accept an even harder cap."
Grantham is now a producer on a film about Micheal Ray Richardson, who was banned from the NBA for drug use and went on to a long professional career in Europe. At 43, Richardson is still playing in the Italian League.
Having sat across the bargaining table from commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Russ Granik, Grantham has a unique perspective on NBA labor relations.
He said the partnership between players and owners that led to the establishment of the salary cap in the early 1980s began falling apart in 1990 when the players and owners clashed over the reporting of revenues.
That fight, Grantham said, fostered an atmosphere of mistrust that has grown in the years since and can be seen in the current standoff in which the owners insist the league is unprofitable and the players do not believe them.
"As you go into the next millennium, it's the league that embraces players as their partners that will prosper," Grantham said. "And right now, the only league with that attitude seems to be baseball."
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved