Player rep Bonner opens up about pains from lockout

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By Mike Monroe

It wasn’t until Matt Bonner stood on the first tee box at the TPC San Antonio golf course on Monday afternoon that the reality of another NBA season struck him.

Hurrying to the annual tournament, which benefits the Kids Sports Network, from the Spurs’ practice facility after a vigorous workout was, well, par for the course.

A year ago, things were dramatically different.

Then, when the sharp-shooting forward hosted his tournament at Canyon Springs Golf Club, it came after a flight from the Northeast the previous afternoon. As a vice president of the players’ association, he knew he would be on his way back to New York the next morning for another negotiating session with NBA owners and executives.

Both sides were in a weeks-long collective-bargaining dispute that had turned ugly while trying to end a lockout that already had extended through the entire month of October, ordinarily the time training camp takes place.

It was a stressful time for all of the players, but especially so for those involved in the talks. There were nights, Bonner said, when it was hard to sleep.

The contrast Monday morning was stark. The only stress Bonner felt: Moderate concern he might hit a spectator with that first tee shot.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich started practice early to accommodate Bonner’s event, then followed him to the course to participate in the fundraiser. Sean Elliott, the former Spurs All-Star who’s now a broadcaster with the team, also played in the tournament.

A year ago, the league wouldn’t even allow team employees and the players to speak to one another.

“Absolutely, it hit me how different this year was,” Bonner said Thursday. “I remember how last year we were trying hard to get clearance to have Coach Popovich and Sean and some of the other retired players who work with NBA teams to come out and participate and we couldn’t get it.

“It was really nice this year to not have to worry about that; not have to worry about something happening in the lockout to where I couldn’t even make it to my own tournament.”

Last year’s lockout didn’t end until Nov. 26, with the start of a shortened 66-game 2011-12 season pushed back to Christmas Day.

Training camp lasted a little more than a week.

The lockout took a toll on Bonner and the other players on the union’s executive committee.

“It was an emotional roller coaster,” Bonner said. “You go from thinking you’re going to get the deal done and get back to your normal life and doing what you love to thinking it’s never going to happen.

“It was up and down and down and up. And then when it did happen it was, ‘What?’ It didn’t even seem real after everything we had been through.”

Bonner has played only 11 minutes in only two of the Spurs’ four preseason games and has yet to score, attempting only three shots. He knows his time will come.

“It’s a long preseason this year, and that’s kind of nice,” he said. “Last year, with the lockout, there was just one week of hard practices and then right into games.

“That was a lot of fun, but right now we’re getting to work on a lot of things we didn’t get to work on last year and focus in on executing the details.”

His game, he said, is taking shape nicely in practice sessions.

“I’ve played a whole lot in practice, I can tell you that,” he said. “I feel like I’m plugged into my role, and that’s what I do and I think I’ve been doing a good job executing it.”
Twitter: @Monroe_SA

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