An NBA lockout was never intended to be a pleasant experience. Whether it is the owners, players, league or the fans, none entered these desolate landscapes, littered by occasional "leaks" and constant propaganda, with much hope for an enjoyable encounter. As most discussions based solely on money, especially in instances where everything gained comes tied to something forfeited, at its core, the lockout is ugly.
Already left lifeless and lost is the Summer League in Las Vegas, a stage that has become our first glimpse of our favorite team's newest draft acquisitions … even if Rudy Fernandez replaced a draftee for the Mavs this season, gone is the chance to see Dominique Jones and/or others.
One more casualty: the July 19 release of the coming season's schedule.
At a time when dreams should dawn over everything from an opening day matchup with the Chicago Bulls, where we would see a banner that's been 31 years in the coming raised and rings handed out, to a Christmas Day rematch with the vanquished Miami Heat, to the first time the hated Spurs arrive in Dallas; we're left to devote as much imagination to ponder whether those games will take place as to the game's themselves.
Instead of a moment of exuberant anticipation, there rests a cauldron of doubt and frustration … a reminder of what is being stolen, and make no mistake, it is being stolen … taken from the pocket of our memories, our experience, and eventually placed into the already deep bank accounts of the owners (assuming they get much of what they are seeking).
Blessed by the expanses of their income, rarely based primarily and likely never solely on basketball, the owners believe they can "wait out" the players, as evidenced by the fact that weeks have passed without formal meetings between the two sides, and none scheduled until early August at the soonest.
And, put simply, they're right.
If finances begin to bleed from both sides, the veins will run dry far sooner for the players. Yet, isn't this a shallow tactic that fails to see the lessons readily available in the league's own grandest stage, where arrogance fell?
It's an approach predicated on the belief that their opponent in these negotiations will fold quickly at the first signs of monetary loss, while ignoring other factors, such as the influence of pride over a group who must credit almost all of what they have on personal belief, on pride.
The NBA is not the NFL. Should regular-season games begin to disappear, the odds of returning to quickly recapture the gains delivered by the 2010-11 season are far from guaranteed.
There is a bruise to be found, and there's nothing to say the wound must dig deeper, but fans do have a breaking point. Should an entire season be lost, many will likely find there's has been reached. Is the attraction of Miami Thrice the NBA's version of the juiced ball or the homerun chases pushed forward by the steroid era in baseball that finally brought the fans back in waves?
Would you be willing to bet the health of a league on it? Is there a threat it's all to be overlooked, a league too meek to pick from the edges of a fanbase who may be in search of another team to follow, to fill their time?
We're not going to prophesize the death of the league, or pretend to know how long the lockout will last, but the current stance of the owners is a strong one to take, considering their position in relation to those they seek to outmaneuver in negotiations … to a point. Beyond an unknown line, it is sure to find diminishing returns.
We're not there yet, but with the Summer League swallowed, the joy and anticipation stolen from the schedule release, the hits have begun to land … and it can be scary how quickly a scratch becomes an infected wound, did Khal Drogo know his fate as he leaned into the blade at his breast (yep, that's a Game of Thrones reference), and would he have so readily done so if he had?
From the owners' apparent willingness to sit back and wait, or their desire to appear in this light, on to the "threat" the players union seems determined to push. Players may all migrate overseas to a warmer climate (metaphorically speaking, since I'd swear I watched a fly disappear into a poof of flame as it entered the direct sunlight today). Is this even a threat? If so, to who?
Do you honestly believe any owner is worried that they will lose their superstar to a European league? They may fear an injury, but they don't fear a player of consequence choosing to stay overseas to forgo an NBA career. Hell, the Magic are probably spending millions to send subliminal messages to Gilbert Arenas, hoping he'll decide to play in Europe and pick up an injury that allows them to void his contract … or, is that the union's hope, enough players with bad contracts will head overseas and eventually the "losses" the owners invited by their own poor decisions will evaporate?
On an individual basis, playing overseas is an avenue to lesson the burden imposed by lost wages, but it's not an approach that can be applied to a majority of players, nor a majority of the stars. And, should an injury occur, in most cases the player stands to lose far more than the team, monetarily speaking.
To present it in other terms, with no offense intended towards other leagues, it's like saying you don't care if your parents/wife/husband/friends won't let you watch their 72-inch HD TV because you have a nice 27-inch standard definition that doesn't get cable in your room.
The people you throw that "threat" at are going to smile, let you go, and know that you'll be there thinking about coming back the entire time.
The disparity between the quality in leagues is overstated by this analogy, when you consider the vast other factors that are sure to weigh on players born and raised on NBA basketball, NBA teams and in a culture in which most were raised, that gap begins to grow. Remove all arguments over quality of the game, and the difference in culture carries enough significance to warrant such a comparison on its own.
The simple fact is that a vast majority of US players are not going to go play overseas if given any other option, and this doesn't even ask the question of whether or not they are wanted. These aren't prep teams so desperate for talent they're begging for American players to arrive in a mass exodus that amounts to a temporary loan of talent, most are teams competing in leagues they hope to win.
Perhaps they're willing to indulge the likes of a Deron Williams, or lesser players currently not under contract, and thus not merely on loan, but they aren't clamoring for, say, Brandon Bass to grace them with his presence for a month or two.
In the end, we're left with the plain fact that this is an ugly circumstance that will undoubtedly get uglier as the rich fight to get richer, and our interests are set aside as we're viewed as silent sheep with dollar bills in hand that none involved believe will stray to distant (they hope) pastures.
As both sides posture for footing, for leverage, for the upper hand, we wait for a conclusion we in essence don't care about, as long as our team returns and can sign the players we hope. But we all have our breaking point, we all are capable of holding grudges, and what now appears as a point in the far off horizon may approach more quickly than any foresee … even as we all hope against it.
In this moment, when you hear "the season may be lost" from an unnamed source on either side, understand this is meant to castrate the opposition, even as it toys with our emotions in an accepted form of collateral damage both sides wave without hesitation. It's ugly, and it's how these things go.
Instead of all of this, why don't you just come back to us now, NBA? We're ready. We'll accept you without mention of the minor hurt you've already cast our way. We're ready to forgive, to forget, to love you again … right now … for now. Don't push us to find whatever emotion waits around the next corner. Don't lead us to the lands of doubt and hurt where stubborn hearts take reign. Just come back.
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