How NBA Players Are Spending the Lockout

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In a job application for Regency Furniture posted online, free agent guard Delonte West checked the "full-time" box and answered "yes" to the question, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?"

To the followup -- "If yes, describe in full" -- West wrote, "Misunderstanding."

In September 2009 while West was playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Prince George (Md.) County police stopped him around 10 p.m. near his home after he cut off a police cruiser in his three-wheeled 2009 Can-Am Spyder motorcycle. West told the cops he was carrying a gun in his waist band. They also found a .357 strapped to his leg and a shotgun inside a guitar case slung across his back.

Apparently, the misunderstanding was that West thought it was OK to travel around as Mad Max.

(He pleaded guilty in July 2010 to traffic and weapons charges.)

Early in the NBA lockout that threatens to kill the 2011-2012 season, West tweeted that he was looking for work at Home Depot. He later told TrueHoop he applied at Sam's Club, saying, "I actually might have work with Sam's (Club), BJ's, selling knives."

I guess because they don't carry guns.

West falls into the category of NBA players who have come off publicly as bored, distracted and only slightly out of touch these past months as owners and players argue details of a new collective bargaining agreement. This is a big improvement over the last NBA lockout in 1998-99, when league NBA players came off as greedy and self-indulgent and from here-to-Mars out of touch. And the improvement is not by accident.

The NBA Players Association issued a 56-page lockout handbook to its constituency in anticipation of a long labor stalemate this time around. According to the New York Times, it covered budgeting, player services and media. And it carried a warning: "Please be sensitive about interviews or other media displays of a luxurious lifestyle."

NBA players -- pro athletes in every sport, really -- have trouble winning the public relations battle when there's a lockout or strike. For one, people think they're grossly overpaid to begin with. For another, the owners are much smaller in number. The commissioner of the sport usually institutes a gag order.

Basically, ownership knows that players can do and say the craziest things given enough time. Some of those things are bound to backfire when the public is already pre-disposed to wishing a pox on both houses of the warring sides.

Tales From Lockouts Past

Compared to the last NBA lockout and other work stoppages in pro sports, though, NBA players have for the most part avoided some of the more egregious pratfalls of the past:

In an October 1998 interview, guard Kenny Anderson admitted he spent $75,000 a year on insurance and maintenance of his eight cars. Said Anderson, "I was thinking of selling one of my cars. I don't need them all. You know just get rid of the Mercedes."

Oh the horrors of having only one car for each day of the week.
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The same year, Patrick Ewing, president of the NBA Players Association, said, "As pro athletes we make a lot of money but we spend a lot of money, too."
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When players gathered to discuss the labor situation, they chose Las Vegas. When they held a charity basketball game, they doubled down and picked Atlantic City as the site. A percentage of the proceeds from that game were designated for "needy" players but the public backlash was so great all proceeds went to charities.
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When the lockout ended, Shawn Kemp became the face of indulgence. Which made sense since he developed two extra chins during the 204-day stalemate. He reported to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a Macy's parade float, weighing well over 300 pounds.

When head coach Mike Fratelo asked him how he could've let himself so, Kemp said, "Coach, I didn't think we were coming back."
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Guard Tim Hardaway, out of touch with polls showing public apathy toward the NBA at the time, said, "People are starving to see pro basketball."

Just not Shawn Kemp.
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The tone set by NBA players during the 1998-99 lockout called to mind running back John Riggins during the 1982 NFL strike.

Somebody came up with the bright idea of staging exhibition games in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. that year. Despite a lack of insurance, Riggins played.

Said Riggins, "I'll do just about anything for money."

This time around, NBA players for the most part haven't aggravated the situation. "For the most part" means almost everyone except Kenyon Martin whose Twitter account carried a message to detractors:

"All Haters should catch full blown Aids and die. Do the world a favor! and rid us of you all!"

Martin's Twitter account was deactivated the next day and he denied sending out the tweet. He is playing in China.

At the very least, no one has pulled a Rashard Mendenhall, the Pittsburgh Steelers running back who tweeted after the death of Osama bin Laden that we'd only heard "one side" of a terrorist's legacy. And said of 9-11, "We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style."

When sporting goods giant Champion dropped him as a client, Mendenhall sued for breach of contract.

So no NBA player has won the Mendenhall Trophy this time despite a dangerous opportunity to speak of behalf of the late Moammar Gaddafi.

Keeping Busy

This time around, most players have filled the void rather harmlessly.

New Orleans point guard Chris Paul appeared on Family Feud with his father and other family members.
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Kris Humphries married a Kardashian.
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Kris Humphries was served divorce papers by a Kardashian 72 days later.
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Kevin Love took up beach volleyball.
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Ron Artest changed his name to Metta World Peace and went on Dancing With The Stars.
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Dwight Howard and Gilbert Arenas posted pictures of themselves "planking."
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Kevin Durant accepted a Twitter fan's request to play flag football at Oklahoma State.
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LeBron James put on the pads and practiced with his old high school football team.
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Blake Griffin interned with the internet humor site Funny or Die.
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Spencer Hawes, a Seattle native, got the Space Needle shaved into the back of his head.
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Amar'e Stoudemire said players might have to consider starting their own league.

According to the latest reports, the 2011-12 season might be canceled. Which will leave players plenty of time to add to this list.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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November 15, 2011 - 6:59am
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