Fans fear they’ll be the losers

A quick glance around A.J. Hausman’s office tells you everything you need to know about his NBA allegiance.

At least a dozen Spurs team balls, dating to the 1980s, line the shelves. Upward of 30 autographed Spurs jerseys festoon the walls.

When it comes to the latest NBA work stoppage, Hausman — a Spurs season-ticket holder since George Gervin was wowing audiences at HemisFair Arena — has but one rooting interest.

“I just hope they get it fixed before they start missing games,” said Hausman, 63, who runs a wholesale meat distribution company south of downtown. “The people who suffer the most in something like this are always the fans.”

The first full day of the NBA lockout came and went Friday, a day after league owners and the players’ union agreed they couldn’t agree on a new collective bargaining agreement.

At first blush, Spurs fans in San Antonio probably didn’t notice the difference.

At lunchtime Friday, the fan shop at the ATT Center had for sale the usual collection of jerseys, T-shirts and other paraphernalia bearing names and likenesses of Spurs players. Business was slow, but typically so for a random weekday in July.

The lockout was most immediately felt in the Spurs’ front office, where July 1 normally would have signaled the opening of free agency. Instead, phones remained quiet across the league, with team personnel barred — by threat of a $1 million fine — from contact with players, agents or intermediaries until the labor issue is settled.

Perhaps the most noticeable sign of the lockout’s arrival in San Antonio could be found on the Spurs’ official website, where images of all current players had been removed by order of the NBA.

Late Friday afternoon, the home page featured a link to’s coverage of the labor struggle, a story on player-development coach Chad Forcier and video features about the Silver Dancers and the team’s mascot, The Coyote.

Though the earliest effects of the lockout have been easy to miss, fans who stuck with the team through the league’s last labor stoppage in 1998-99 realize more meaningful consequences are on the horizon.

Carol Muir, a real-estate agent with Kuper-Sotheby’s, has owned Spurs season tickets since 1974-75, when the club played in the ABA. If she learned anything from the labor war of 13 years ago, it’s that things are likely to get worse before they get better.

It took 204 days to resolve the last lockout, and not before 32 of 82 games were erased from the NBA schedule.

“The longer it goes, the worse it will be,” Muir said.

Owners are seeking to revamp a player salary-structure they say is unsustainable, citing league accounting that claims 22 of 30 teams posted losses last season totaling in excess of $300 million.

Players have been willing to concede some salary relief but would prefer owners contribute to their own bailout through revenue sharing, rather than relying solely on payroll cuts.

The two sides plan to return to the bargaining table in a few weeks. If an agreement can’t be reached by October, the start of the regular season could be postponed. If the dispute persists into January, the entire season might be scuttled.

Fans, some of whom plunk down thousands of dollars per year on season tickets, don’t seem to care about the specifics of the tug-of-war. They just want basketball.

“I feel more sorry for the people who work the games, the ushers and the concessionaires, than I do the players,” said Muir, who says she will keep her season tickets even if games are missed. “And I feel sorry for all the fans.”

After the 1998-99 lockout, it took several years for some fans to fully embrace the sport again. At a news conference Thursday in New York, league commissioner David Stern said he understood why fans might not take kindly to another stoppage.

“I think our fans will tend to have a negative view of, ‘Why can’t you guys work this thing out?’” Stern said.

Spurs forward Matt Bonner, a vice president of the players’ union, echoed sympathy for the league’s fans.

“As players, we want to play,” Bonner said. “But at the same time, we need a fair deal.”

For fans such as Hausman, that day can’t come soon enough. Like Muir, Hausman says he has no plans to cancel the season tickets he first purchased in 1984.

He just hopes he has a chance to use them again sometime soon.

“I’ll still support the Spurs,” he said. “I just hope they figure this out. It’s sad that it had to come to this.”

Staff Writer Mike Monroe contributed to this report.

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