Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sigh

So… this is real, huh?

We've past the point where I can keep ignoring the NBA lockout.

Out of blind faith that a deal would get done, I've refrained from writing about the NBA lockout, both in the months leading up to July 1, and the 16 weeks since. I naively held out hope that a collection of fabulously wealthy individuals (and the Maloofs), many of whom accumulated said wealth through not only hard work, but dedication to, and respect for, customer and employee alike, would take pause for a least a moment before cynically alienating the two groups on whom they are reliant for their profits.

On Thursday, nearly four months after it began, and after more than two years of speculation and a DiMaggio-esque three consecutive days of negotiation, superstar mediator George Cohen, a man that has brokered labor peace in the Metropolitan Opera, the FAA, the NFL, the MLS and the American Red Cross, informed us that "no useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time."

I’m not going to delve into the minutiae of the conflict. I understand the issues at hand and have kept abreast of developments in the battle, but so many in the NBA blogosphere have already done such stellar work on the topic. Plus, I simply don’t want to. However, to briefly summarize my admittedly imperfect and deeply biased perspective on the matter (feel free to torch me if I am way off on any of this): the owners collectively suck at the negotiating table and are not above denigrating their own product and unabashedly urinating on the ideas of “bargaining in good faith” to keep from getting publicly fleeced again.

Thanks to a shortsighted television contract they signed in 2007, the NBA’s owners have deemed the league’s current operating environment- the one that management has employed multiple lockouts to secure- unsustainable. But don’t ask them to actually verify that with, y’know, numbers. Trust your gut.

Sure, locking in $930 million of TV revenue ($31 million per team) for the next eight years seemed like a great insurance policy against the collapse of Western capitalism in the darkest days of 2008 and 2009. However, in 2011, on the heels of the most compelling NBA season in recent memory, it represents the selling of one’s wares at a discount to market price.

Anyway…

With the season’s first two weeks already on the scrap heap, more cancellations are a mere formality. While an 11th hour deal to salvage most (probably not all) of the regular season remains in the realm of possibility, the conversation now shifts to the fans- and the extent to which this all too public conflict will damage the NBA’s relationship with its customers. The consensus opinion is that whenever NBA ball resumes, diehards will come thundering back, while the “casual fan”, not irrationally bound by the chains of hardcore fandom, will forever be repelled by this tug-of-war between “millionaires and billionaires.” (After all these months, I had to use that phrase in writing at least once. That was fun.)

This line of thinking is only partially correct. Yes, the diehards will return, but the idea that the “casual fan” (hate this term so much) will forever cast professional basketball aside over this- a squabble among the participants in an industry about which he is, by definition, not overly passionate- is flawed. The casual fan does not live and die with every Pacers-Raptors showdown in mid-March. He wants the athletic stylings of Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard on cold winter nights, LeBron v. Kobe on Christmas and an exciting postseason. He wants to sit in the lower bowl at MSG, the “Triple A” or Staples/United Center. Give him headliners and the status-affirming seats in glamorous arenas and you’ll never know he stepped away.

As CBS’s Ken Berger's scathing summary of last week’s events (link) perfectly personifies, it’s the diehard that is really pissed. Our relatively small but absurdly passionate legion of hoops junkies that cannot live without League Pass, the devoted crew that springs into action at every #LeaguePassAlert- this is where most pain is felt. Berger cautions in his piece that by engaging in such “asshattery with a circus tent over it”, the NBA risks waking up one day soon, to “no audience -- no one left who cares.”

I understand Berger’s perspective, but I am making no such threats. I will be back. Not because I am a sucker, but because, for better and for worse, my love for the NBA is familial. All too often I don’t care for the actions of the league and/or its players, but my love endures. For the same reason my parents have put with my shit though the years. For the same reason my closest friends are afforded a benefit of the doubt that others are not.

Don’t get me wrong, I am angry. Livid. I am not only rooting for a whale to walk into Dan Gilbert’s casino and clean the place out, I’m hoping LeBron James is the man that does it. I wish Mickey Arison several lifetimes of shoe-leather steaks. Bobby Sarver? Nothing original- how ‘bout good old fashioned financial ruin? And the designer handbag toting Mrs. S? An eternity of off-the-rack-shopping. As for Paul Allen… what do you get the out-of-touch decabillionaire douche that’s got everything?

Thing is, in no long-term relationship that’s worth a damn does one party simply cast the other aside during a rough stretch. We’ve all gone through some things. At various points in my life, I have treated those closest to me in an aloof and prickish manner. If love and human relationships were logical, some (if not most) of these people would have written me off. Out of unconditional love or the simple recognition that I was going through some stuff, they stuck around. Well, the NBA (the concept, the greater entity) is going through some things right now, and those with the most at stake emotionally are getting hurt. This sucks balls, but it too shall pass. No way some handful of moneyed asshats is going to destroy something that’s been built over decades.

My relationship with the Association dates back more than a quarter century, to when I was four years old and brand new to the United States. More than any teacher, friend or educational program, the NBA, namely Chick Hearn, is responsible for my becoming fluent in English- without accent and well-versed in American vernacular- inside of three months. I love the games and I love this league, at the moment in spite of my better judgment, but this is about more than basketball.

Yeah, I am pissed. Right now, I hate these godless bastards. But I will be back.

I may not particularly like the NBA at the moment, but the love endures. Get your shit together guys.



That's it. My first and only planned NBA lockout article. I've acknowledged the elephant and will now return tot he warm embrace of NBA history. Before I go, however, I'd like to give a shout out to those writers that have done such an outstanding job of reporting the news and analyzing the issues, and some articles that have made the experience of reading about something that sucks so much occasionally entertaining:

* The aforementioned Ken Berger. One of the best in the business.

* Tom Ziller from SB Nation. Really liked these. Also kills it with The Hook.

* Tim Donahue, who's provided some really fantastic analysis at Eight Points, Nine Seconds.

* Dave from Searching for Slava. Awesome job of keeping it entertaining while getting to the heart of things.

* Loved this effort from Darius at Forum Blue & Gold, warning the owners of the perils of trying to run up the score.

* Consistently excellent stuff from Zach Lowe from SI.com, whose recent examination of competitive balance in really fantastic.

* TrueHoop's Henry Abbott, who authored one of my favorite articles of the lockout.

* This Week in the Lockout. Great stuff from Dex at Silver Screen & Roll.


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