So let me get this straight: All it takes is President Obama calling the NBA lockout “heartbreaking” — in a conversation with Jay Leno, no less — and the players and owners respond with more than 15 hours of talks followed by some of the most optimistic talk we’ve heard since the lockout began.
“Heartbreaking” might be overstating it a bit — surely losing some basketball games doesn’t quite reach that level. But then again, unemployment is already high, and no one wants to see arena workers lose their jobs because millionaires and billionaires can’t agree on how to split billions of dollars. So if a “Tonight Show” appearance can save some jobs, so be it.
Talks Wednesday night and into Thursday morning apparently went so well that players union chief Billy Hunter said an 82-game season could be salvaged if an agreement could be reached by the end of the weekend. For the players who’ll participate in the 2012 Olympics, that will make for a long slog, and I’m not sure I’d recommend trying to cram 82 games into a shortened calendar, but at least it’s a sign of optimism from a man who not long ago said he thought at least half the season would be canceled.
Stern, having recovered from the flu — what, his insurance plan doesn’t cover a vaccine? — was back at the talks and sounding less optimistic than Hunter, but more optimistic than he usually does. He agreed that an 82-game season was possible and said the league would try to make it happen if a deal was reached. But Stern, being Stern, also had to suck a little air out of the room.
“There is no deal on anything unless there is a deal on everything,” he said, which is of course true, but also obvious and kind of a downer.
The two sides really ought to worry more about the revenue split — the players have lowered their demand to 52.5 percent -- and less about how many games they’ll play. Eighty-two games may be impossible from a purely logistical point. The league will have to work around hockey schedules and everything else in all its arenas.
Teams also will have to play more back-to-back games; the union has expressed a willingness to do that. But the travel involved in an NBA season is already pretty exhausting, and teams have been known to “mail it in” at times when they just get too tired — or disinterested — in playing. It’s one reason the league tends to pick up more fans during the playoffs, when that kind of behavior stops and the quality of play kicks up.
Of course, all of this is mere speculation. No deal has been reached and if it isn’t soon, another two weeks may be canceled. That would effectively put an end to the idea of an 82-game season anyway.
But it does look like the NBA might make a comeback before Christmas. I had thought from the beginning that the league wouldn’t start up until after the New Year at the earliest, but if I’m proven wrong I’ll be fine with that.
Part of me wondered what Christmas Day would be like at our house without a Celtics game — that and ham are the two things our family can all agree on during the holidays.
All we need is for Stern’s and Hunter’s hearts to grow three sizes, and one of those large magnifying glasses so we can see it happen.