The NBA has a labor problem, all right; the Detroit Pistons aren't working.

This is, of course, a cheap, one-liner to open a column about the NBA Finals. But I am desperate for readers of this non-competitive series, more desperate than ABC is for viewers -- more desperate than Eva Longoria sitting courtside on Sunday night.

Eva was waiting less for her boyfriend, San Antonio point guard Tony Parker, than she was for real, prime-time entertainment.

I am more desperate than Eva or ABC because I am using her to sell my column. The network is only using her to cross-promote her series and this series, which, frankly, is malodorous through two games.

The Spurs beat down the Pistons, drug them across the SBC Center floor until their defending-champion behinds stung in Game 2.

Spurs 97, Detroit 76, Drama 0.

This may make David Stern desperate, too.

Stern is the commissioner of a league in turmoil, or at least tumult. It is difficult trying to divvy up $3 billion between owners and players while at the same time trying to convince his emissaries of globalism that San Antonio-Detroit is universally appealing, that his league is just ducky.

Either way, the enemy in all this enmity and hoop drudgery is, of course, the players. It is always the players.

In the late fall of 1998, the last time NBA players and owners were at an economic impasse, Kenny Anderson showed up for lunch at a Manhattan restaurant to discuss his financial situation with a reporter.

Anderson, and later his accountant, were as candid and honest about the numbers as can be, detailing to the dollar how his living-large lifestyle would be crimped if an entire NBA season were lost to labor strife.

The former New York schoolboy legend and onetime NBA all-star joked that he might have to sell one of his seven cars. I laughed and wrote that remark, figuring all economic hardships are relative to the wage-earner while also conveying that Anderson was indeed trying to be funny.

No one else laughed.

Disgusted fans believed it to be the pinnacle of arrogance for an out-of-touch player and an equally clueless league. Who knows how much Anderson's words damaged the National Basketball Players Association's collective bargaining leverage at the time, but clearly the "seven-cars quote" -- as it came to be known in the union offices -- galvanized a cross-section of player haters. Sick of hearing about a millionaire's economic woes, fans began sounding off more and more. The backlash was incendiary.

Financially irresponsible owners created the problem and were responsible for the lockout. But just as the public believed the players were on strike more than six years ago -- held hostage by those greedy benchwarmers -- so too will the players shoulder much of the blame today.

Stern began another round of saber-rattling on Sunday night. When asked about progress between the two sides, he said that "if July 1 comes and there's a lockout, the union will have made a mistake of epic proportions that I don't think the average member of the rank and file understands is taking place."

The rank and file, in NBA vernacular, are players not making salaries commensurate with Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson. If Stern gets them to exert pressure on Billy Hunter, executive director of the players' union, then maybe the deal gets done quicker, before the NBA winds up in a real quandary prior to the opening of training camp in October.

Divide-and-conquer Dave, at his best.

While Stern takes no pleasure in the public's perception that his millionaire players want more, he seems willing to go this route again in hopes of settling this dispute. Until the next Kenny Anderson has to sell one of his diamond-platinum ropes or Miami vacation condo, and the owners get their way.

You won't hear from the league about how franchises have sold for more than $400 million, how the owners' cash-strapped circumstances are relative to their own immense wealth.

No, general fans blame the faces they know from TV.

I could see the meltdown of a league coming in 1998. The NBA was losing Michael Jordan to his second retirement. Along with fans' inability to latch onto a new generation of players, the lockout and the loss of 32 games helped usher in lower ratings and apathy.

In 2005, the Lakers of Shaq and Kobe are retired. On the night the Spurs and Pistons were trudging down court and hoping for better than a 27 percent ratings drop from the previous year after Game 1, the challenge is the same:

Get the masses to watch the product in record numbers again, before they turn off the game completely.

You can't bring Will Smith in to hype the Game 1 tip-off. Video-conferencing in Kelly Clarkson from Kuwait to sing the national anthem in front of U.S. troops prior to Game 2 will not help, either.

As it is, more people already remember the first two games of these Finals for the Fresh Prince instead of Tayshaun Prince.

Another meltdown -- in interest and ratings -- are in the offing if these two sides fail to come to terms in the next two months.

The backlash will be even nastier this time. Divide-and-conquer Dave better become Desperate Dave. Quick -- before we all begin yawning at courtside.

Eva Langoria, star of "Desperate Housewives" and the girlfriend of Spurs guard Tony Parker, poses for pictures.