Faces of the NBA lockout

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 20, 2011 - 12:27 AM

NBA players and owners get headlines, but fans and businesses are affected by the work stoppage as well. With no games, these are the tales left to tell.

It's approaching 6 o'clock in downtown Minneapolis on a wintry Wednesday night, when the Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks once were scheduled at play at Target Center.

Walk into Hubert's just across the arena corridor from courtside and the only crowded table includes Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve and Lindsay Whalen saying their post-championship season goodbyes. Stroll over to Smalley's 87 next door and when you ask a waiter about an NBA labor lockout that now has reached Day 143, he gestures to show a completely empty restaurant.

At Gluek's just down the street, three customers sidle up to the 25-seat bar on a quiet night that otherwise would have been pulsing with people and pregame chatter.

While NBA owners and players have taken their disagreements over a new labor agreement to U.S. District Courts, basketball fans and workers from all walks of life tabulate their shifts and paychecks lost.

"There's enough stuff these days for people to be depressed about," Gluek's manager Donna Fyten says from behind the long, worn wooden bar. "We didn't need one more thing."

While millionaire ballplayers play charity games or accept temp jobs overseas, everyday people go on without their basketball or their work.

THE ANGRY FAN

He loves the game, but count him out:  Paul Morita loves basketball.

Loves to watch it: He grew up in Chicago and watched Michael Jordan and the Bulls win six NBA titles, then moved to Minnesota 14 years ago and fell in love with a guy named Kevin Garnett.

Loves to play it: "A 40-year-old Asian-American," he says of himself. "A 6-foot power forward, like Charles Barkley."

And he is offended that "rich and richer" guys can't fairly split $4 billion in revenues annually, offended enough that he started his own Facebook "Boycott the NBA" page.

"I will not give them any more money, not for a long time," said Morita, who works in advertising, lives in St. Anthony and has a basement filled with sports memorabilia that in particular celebrates his beloved Cubs. "Look at the unemployment numbers. Look at all the people homeless. It astounds me that these billionaires and millionaires are fighting, and they expect me to care?

"The players are so rich already and they feel so entitled. You see them on Twitter, making jokes about having to apply for a job at Home Depot now. They're making fun of all the millions of people who are unemployed and really hurting. It's disrespectful to the whole situation, and I find it really revolting."

THE LAID-OFF EMPLOYEE

His job for now is family man: Four months after he was one of a dozen Timberwolves employees laid off, Matt Chapman still is looking for a job. But he has found some perspective on the NBA lockout.

While he waits for somebody to answer one of many résumés sent out, he has spent his summer and fall wisely, investing it in family time with his 4-year-old daughter, Libby, and 8-year-old son, Xander.

"It has been amazing to spend time with them that I wouldn't have had otherwise," he said, mentioning an August vacation with his wife and kids to visit his parents in New Hampshire. "At the same time, it'll be interesting to get back to work in the not-too-distant future."

The Wolves' former broadcasting director, Chapman led a 12-person department that now numbers just four radio employees partly because of the lockout, partly because the team concluded it can't make money by buying air time, selling ads and producing broadcasts for over-the-air games on Ch. 29. When the NBA resumes, the only locally televised games will be on FSN cable. Until then, broadcasters Tom Hanneman and Jim Petersen -- paid by the game -- are out of work, too.

"We all had been looking at the potential for a lockout," said Chapman, who received a severance package from the Wolves that helped soften his transition. "I told all the people who worked for me to prepare for the worst and pray for the best. I'd have been a fool not to take my own advice."

A WCCO TV news producer before he joined the Wolves five years ago, Chapman is searching for a job in marketing or public relations or might start his own food-industry business.

"Probably not pro sports or television news again," said Chapman, 38. "TV news, that's a young person's game."

THE BAR MANAGER

'I just didn't think it'd ever get this far': Donna Fyten walked past an outdoor patio table last summer at Gluek's -- the downtown Minneapolis restaurant/bar where she has worked the last 13 years -- and overheard Timberwolves employees talking about an impending NBA lockout.

"I just didn't think it'd ever get this far," she said.

"This far" is a potentially lost season that left Fyten looking lonesome behind the bar on a chilly Wednesday evening in mid-November.

The Wolves should have been facing the Milwaukee Bucks in 45 minutes. A staff of 15 people -- cooks, servers, food runners, bartenders -- should have been working the dinner "rush" rather than a skeleton crew of five.

The place should have been buzzing with customers and a lively pregame vibe. Instead, three people sat at the 25-seat bar on a night when wait staff took home maybe $40 each rather than the usual $100.

"It just feels different around here," said Fyten. "There's always a certain energy that goes with fall and basketball and it's just missing this year. Basketball is supposed to be a night when people get out, have fun and spend some money. This year, it's just another thing for people to be upset about or sad about and angry about.

"Right now, we're hanging on. The holidays are always busy, they'll help. But if we get into January or February without basketball, that's going to be really bleak. We'll have to tell the staff to stash away some money now."

THE SEASON TICKET HOLDER

New players, new coach will have to wait: Will Delaney bought his first Timberwolves season ticket in 2008, a year after superstar Kevin Garnett was dealt away to Boston and when just about everyone else found reason to avoid Target Center in droves.

"I figured it was like a stock: Buy low and ride it up," he said.

And now, just when he and fellow Wolves fans finally can't wait to see Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams and new coach Rick Adelman arrive together ... no basketball.

He's not waving the sympathy flag for the players. But when he looks for someone to blame, he sees Wolves owner Glen Taylor, one of the small-market owners who adamantly has sought salary givebacks and system changes that players deem just too much.

"He's one of the small-market owners who says the system is unfair, but if you look at his track record, he has done a terrible job running his business," said Delaney, 29, who grew up in Cincinnati but left there 11 years ago to attend St. Olaf College and now works for a Minneapolis nonprofit.

"I don't think you should be guaranteed a profit if you run your business poorly. I don't think any American thinks that. For these pioneers of capitalism -- the NBA owners -- to cry for socialism, that doesn't make sense to me.

"These owners want to be guaranteed everything will be all right, and Glen Taylor especially out of that crew. ... He basically has turned the Timberwolves into the laughingstock of a league that has the Clippers. That's pretty bad."

THE BAND OF OTHERS

At least there are other games in town: Freelance TV audio mixer Chris Tveitbakk keeps his calendar on the desk behind him while his hands slide and toggle the expansive sound board and another Wild broadcast from Xcel Energy Center approaches.

"Those ones circled in green are Wolves games," he said, "the ones that aren't happening."

There is still work to be done -- Wild and Gophers hockey, one-off gigs in Winnipeg and Ohio -- but he loses a 10-hour workday and $450 payday when the Wolves don't play.

He's not alone: More than 50 freelancers are involved in staging every Wolves or Wild telecast, home and away.

"Tweeter," as everyone calls him, estimates that could cost him $20,000 if an entire season is lost.

"I have mentally given up on a season," he said. "If they do slap one together, it's a bonus. But I'm not counting on it."

Don't call him, and he won't call you ... until next month: Freelance writer Myles Brown has learned to truly value Google phone and e-mail during this lockout, when he exceeded his cell-phone minutes and too many other bills piled up.

Gone for now is his NBA writing gig for Slam magazine, a noticeable chunk of his income. So, too, is his cell phone until next month's minutes arrive.

"It kills my winter," he said. "It just makes a cold winter that much colder."

Just another night, just another gig — for now: Basketball's gone, but selling popcorn and beer goes on. Just at other places.

Dick Wilke has hawked concessions for three decades. With no NBA, he still keeps climbing grandstands at everything from Vikings and Wild games to roller derby, lingerie football and concerts.

"I'm not in any kind of panic about it," he said. "If they're out the whole season, maybe that's different. But it hasn't really impacted me yet."

  • related content

  • Photo gallery: The faces of the lockout

    Saturday November 19, 2011

    Those impacted by the NBA's work stoppage.

  • Gluek’s General Manager Donna Fyten chatted with a customer on a quiet night when the Timberwolves should have been playing at nearby Target Center.

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