CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Antawn Jamison was stunned in 1998 when he stumbled into the last NBA lockout as a rookie. He found the players disorganized, uninformed and unprepared for what lay ahead.
“You had guys saying one thing and you had other guys going behind their back and saying another thing,” Jamison said. “The owners knew then they eventually would buckle.”
Now one of the few players still active who experienced the last work stoppage, the Cleveland Cavaliers forward senses a different atmosphere.
It’s why just as the NBA was officially announcing Thursday night it was locking out its players, Jamison predicted the labor dispute will either be settled before games are missed — or the entire season will be lost.
“I think in ‘98-99, we didn’t think it would be a long, drawn-out process,” Jamison said after speaking to children at a school in his hometown. “Just the unity, the guys understanding what we’re facing and what we’re up against is totally different than what it was when I first got into the league.”
Nearing the end of his career and due one of the largest salaries in the league next season — about $15 million — Jamison would have plenty to lose if next season is wiped out. But Jamison insists there’s unity from the rookie draft picks to the league’s stars.
“You’ve got the LeBron Jameses and the Dwyane Wades and all those guys who are really taking a stand and being a face of this movement,” Jamison said. “I think back then we really didn’t have the superstars that were together as the superstars are now. I think it’s making a difference.”
Jamison said the NBA Players Association is already setting up gyms around the country where players will be able to work out and get instruction and treatment. He said players are constantly getting updates from the union and there was a strong push that started “three or four years ago” to get players to save money and prepare for the worst.
“Let’s be honest, there are going to be guys who did it and there are going to be guys who didn’t,” Jamison said. “You’re going to hear stories about guys that didn’t save their money and so forth, but I think collectively guys have done a good job being prepared for this lockout.”
Jamison indicated that wasn’t the case after he left North Carolina a year early and was the fourth pick in the draft before being traded to Golden State.
“You were on your own,” Jamison said. “We weren’t prepared for it and I didn’t know what to do.”
Jamison said he worked out at North Carolina, but when an agreement finally was reached in January, he wasn’t prepared for the rushed start to a 50-game season. It showed, as he averaged just 9.6 points before doubling that total in the full season that followed.
“It was probably the worst ever. I wasn’t mentally prepared for it,” Jamison said of his rookie year. “It was just one of those things that was a tough process and it definitely affected me throughout that season.”
Jamison feels this labor dispute will be different, and insists players have the will to sit out an entire season instead of giving in to the owners’ demands of salary rollbacks and a hard salary cap.
“I understand when they say they’re losing money and so forth. I get that,” Jamison said. “We said we’d give a certain amount of that money back. But some owners have to take the onus on themselves because they put themselves in a situation where they’re overpaying for certain guys.
“We both have to look in the mirror and say, ‘We both have to take responsibility for this.’”