Color me completely unsurprised that the NBA canceled the first two weeks of the season. Frankly, I thought it would be more. Frankly, I think it will be more — unless both sides undergo a sea change in their core values. And neither is there yet.
When Commissioner David Stern says, “We can’t close the gap,” what he means is “We won’t close the gap.” Any time two sides emerge from negotiations to say they can’t reach agreement — and I don’t care if it’s Congress or you and your teenage son — it’s a lie. It just means one or both sides will not compromise. Because you can’t negotiate without compromise, that’s that. Just don’t act like it’s beyond your control. It is completely within your control.
And Stern is not the only one at fault. The players’ union fought off a hard salary cap and is now tussling with a luxury tax penalty that it claims amounts to about the same thing. Because heaven forbid there would be a limit on how much teams pay — and overpay — for some of this NBA “talent.” Frankly, for some teams, a hard cap would be a general manager’s best friend.
By losing the first two weeks of the season, the owners say they’ll lose hundreds of millions, and the players will lose more than $350 million for every month they don’t play. Both sides hope those losses will teach the other side a lesson.
Are they all crazy? In our current economic climate, the idea that either side can throw around figures such as those is ludicrous. Many fans of these overpaid millionaires and billionaires are struggling to get by, or in danger of losing their jobs — or they’ve lost their jobs, and maybe even their homes.
The NFL had the right idea when it settled its lockout without the loss of games. A fan with little more to look forward to than a daily dose of bills in the mail — assuming the postal service doesn’t fail — needs the temporary escape an NBA game can provide. Our country has real and serious problems, and rich people spending up to seven hours — seven hours! — in a room fighting over a $4 billion pot of gold isn’t among them.
The NFL manages to achieve parity with a salary cap. Players make money — some of them make tons of it — and yet teams from small markets can and do succeed. The unbeaten teams this year are Green Bay and Detroit; Buffalo has one loss. I’m sure the NBA is tired of having the NFL held up as a model of all that is good and right — and of course it isn’t — but the league is the most popular in the country.
The NBA isn’t, and if this lockout continues to cancel games, it may never recover the fans it has. Right now, with football in full swing, fans can do without the NBA. That’s why I’ve felt all along the owners and players will be back no later than January or February, when the sports calendar thins a bit.
But hard-core NBA fans already are feeling the pain, and those are the people the league and its players can least afford to alienate. The casual fan who shows up when football ends is probably still going to show up. By then, the loyal hoops folks may have decided they’ve had enough, that they owe no further allegiance to a sport that shows so little regard for them. And they’d probably be right.