John Wall hustled from the locker room and received a huge ovation as he finally made his way to the bench late in the first quarter of an exhibition on Saturday between the local Goodman League and Team Philly at Coolidge High School. Wall’s tardiness was exacerbated because the game started about an hour later than scheduled, but it wasn’t his fault.
His flight from Lexington, Ky., where he participated in Midnight Madness festivities at the University of Kentucky, was delayed for four hours and then he had to deal with a 90-minute drive to the gym from the airport. Wall had an annoying afternoon of delays, but nothing compares to the frustration of being held back from playing NBA basketball because of the lockout.
The Washington Wizards were supposed to be playing a preseason game in Milwaukee on Saturday, but instead Wall was chasing around Philadelphia 76ers guard Lou Williams in front of nearly 2,000 fans because the NBA labor dispute has already wiped out the exhibition season and the first two weeks of the regular season. After scoring 38 points in just three quarters of the Goodman League’s 172-169 loss, Wall admitted that he has enjoyed playing charity games over the past few months “but after a while, that gets boring. You want to get back to real basketball.”
The league and the players union remain far apart on how to divide nearly $4 billion in revenue and establish a new salary cap structure. They are scheduled to meet with a federal mediator on Tuesday, and David Stern has predicted that the first two months of the season could be eliminated if the two sides don’t reach an agreement early in the week.
“I knew it was real from Day One and they told us, ‘Don’t call no coaches.’ And I couldn’t walk up to Verizon [Center] and park my car to go work out at any time of night or any time of day. So I knew it was real,” Wall said of the lockout. “But now you’re seeing the real aspect of the business of this NBA stuff. It’s tough. You know you’re missing the first two weeks. Hopefully after the two weeks are over, we can get back to playing basketball.”
Wall said he was “sick” when he heard about the cancellations but hopes that the union and the players remain committed to holding out until they get a favorable deal — and don’t come down from their demand of receiving 53 percent of all basketball-related income.
At a players union meeting the day before in Los Angeles, Wizards center JaVale McGee said some players were “ready to fold” to get back playing basketball, but Wall said backing down now would make meaningless the fight of the past few months.
“If you start to fold, it’s going to hurt us. That’s what they want us to do,” Wall said of the owners. “They want us to fold. If you’re going to take 50-50, take it now. Don’t lose two games, two weeks and don’t lose no money, if you’re going to fold in a week or two.”
Oklahoma City all-star forward Kevin Durant, who led all players with 56 points on Saturday, said the owners have to move closer to the players in order make a deal. “In negotiations, you have to give a little, take a little. They not helping us out,” he said. “They got to meet us some point. We’ve sacrificed a lot. Went down from 57 [percent in basketball-related income in the previous collective bargaining agreement] to 53.
“Us as players, we bring in a lot of the money. Hopefully we come to an agreement, but we have to stand firm. That’s something we’re going to do. Hopefully the fans back us, and know that we’re not trying to get more money. I think that’s been misconstrued there. We’re not on strike.”
Durant sat through one of the bargaining sessions in New York and was disappointed that no progress was made. “They wasn’t giving up and we wasn’t giving in,” he said. “We tried to make it reasonable for them, for the owners, but it feels like they are not helping us at all. They’re not trying to get an agreement done at all. We did our part.”
Wall said the next collective bargaining agreement is especially important for him since it will affect how much money he will be able to earn over his career.
“The owners are making it seem we don’t care about playing basketball. But these guys, we love playing basketball,” Wall said. “If that’s the case, we wouldn’t be having these summer league games this late. We would be resting our bodies, just chilling and partying. We want to play basketball.”
When asked his thoughts about possibly losing the entire season, Durant shook his head and said, “I don’t want to think about that.”
He continued: “I love this game. I worked hard, all my life to play in the NBA. Now I can’t play. Some days, I think about it all day, wonder what I’d be doing at this time. Other days, it’s kind of cool to get a little, tiny bit of extra rest. But we all want to play. We all want to play man. . . . Hopefully, we’ll get something done. If not, we’re going to keep playing these games.”