What can past lockouts teach us about the current NBA hiatus?

Profile Picture: Ryan Murphy

March 19th, 2020

The NBA’s current hiatus may seem like unchartered territory to younger fans, but this is far from the first time that the league has canceled or postponed a significant portion of its season. The Association has dealt with four lockouts since 1995, including one as recently as 2011. That particular work stoppage lasted eight months and led to the outright cancelation of 16 games.

We’ve examined each lockout closely to see what fans can expect if – and when – the NBA resumes in mid-June.

Some players will really let themselves go to pot

NBA players are just like the rest of us – they tend to eat and drink too much when they’re on vacation. That was especially true for Shawn Kemp, who reportedly packed on an additional 85 lbs during the league’s lengthy 1998-99 lockout. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s an impressive 14 lbs per month. That extra weight robbed Kemp of his trademark explosiveness, and he was out of the NBA four years later at age 33.

It’s unlikely anyone will replicate Kemp’s legendary lapse in judgment, but don’t be surprised if some players return with doughy Dad bods rather than rippling six packs.

Injuries and fatigue will be common

Injuries are a fact of life in the NBA, but they’re especially common following lockouts and long hiatuses when players are rushed back into action without the benefit of a lengthy training camp. The NBA compounded this problem following its 2011-12 lockout when it forced teams to play two more games per month and one set of back-to-back-to-back games to make up for lost time. The result was injuries to some of the NBA’s brightest stars including Derrick Rose, Chris Bosh, and Baron Davis.

Play will be sloppy

It’s impossible to expect players to be in mid-season form after spending months on the couch. We witnessed that following the 1998-99 lockout when many of the first games played were horrendously sloppy affairs featuring more turnovers than a German bakery. In fact, nine teams averaged 16 or more turnovers per game that season, and needed weeks before they were able to execute their offenses at a high level.

If the NBA does return in mid-June, as anticipated, fans can expect to see plenty of passes fired into the third row until players eventually settle in.

Attendance will drop

It’s likely the NBA will play the remainder of its games in empty arenas, but even if teams do open their doors to the public, fans will be slow to return. That was the case following the 1998-99 lockout as attendance fell by 2.2% around the league. No team was harder hit than the Los Angeles Clippers, who drew just 10,262 fans per game, although their putrid 9-41 record was certainly a factor.

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