Mike Monroe: Lockout alternative for NBA’s working class

Locked-out NBA players have reason to smile just a little today.

The lockout isn’t ending soon, but the latest news was positive.

It seems the owners will have to refund the $160 million withheld from players’ paychecks as part of the escrow system in the collective bargaining agreement that expired July 1.

Citing sources within the NBA and the players’ union, NBA.com reported a pending infusion of dough for the players, who had yielded 8 percent of each paycheck, per the fine print, during each season in the old deal.

This is money that will make it easier for players to stand firm against the league. Tim Duncan, for example, should get a check for $1.5 million and change. DeJuan Blair will get $73,440; Gary Neal, $45,200.

Additionally, there are lockout jobs awaiting players at the bottom end of the pay scale, and they don’t even have to leave North America to get them.

The newly formed National Basketball League of Canada, after breaking away from something called the Premiere League, recently opened its arms to what it called “Tier 3” NBA players staring at a long lockout.

The NBL defines “Tier 3” players as those on the lower side of the NBA salary spectrum, especially young players earning the league minimum.

One of the NBL’s three established coaches can relate to such players.

Jaren Jackson had a lot to prove by the time he arrived at Spurs training camp in 1997. Before he played a single minute in silver and black, he had worn the uniforms of 11 other pro teams, NBA or otherwise.

Jackson’s first four NBA contracts were for the league minimum, but he was poised to cash in after that first season as a Spur, when he played well enough to start 45 games at shooting guard and averaged 8.8 points in 82 games.

Then a lockout wiped out the first three months and 32 games of the 1998-99 season. When that work stoppage ended, Jackson, who was a free agent, earned his first seven-figure contract. Better yet, he was a contributing member of the Spurs’ first title team.

Jackson’s hardscrabble path to an NBA dream makes him uniquely positioned for his latest career move: head coach of the NBL’s Saint John Mill Rats.

“Many of these NBA players have decisions to make as the lockout continues,” Jackson said Tuesday. “Right now it seems there is no optimism at all; it looks like everybody is going to be sitting out for a long while, and these players are going to want opportunities to play.”

For the moment, the NBL has only three teams: the Mill Rats, the Halifax Rainmen, coached by former NBA player and coach Mike Evans, and the Quebec City Kebs. There are plans for more teams, which have arena leases still to be worked out.

Jackson believes the geography of the league will have a special appeal to NBA players who grew up or played in the Northeast U.S.

“I think there will be some players interested, maybe some Canadian players in the NBA, or any other guys from the East Coast who just want to continue to stay in shape or play while the lockout is going on,” he said.

“Financially, it won’t be like the NBA, of course, but it will be a continued opportunity to grow as a player and not just sit at home during this lockout.”

What sort of money can they expect?

“Well, let’s just say they’ll be able to pay their bills,” Evans said.

Even minimum-contract players should be able to feed themselves with the checks they’ll soon be refunded, but in the meantime, the NBL may offer them a chance to also hone their skills until the lockout ends.


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