Tuesday Mavs Donuts: The Lockout Void
I guess this is where I am supposed to angrily crush the NBA owners for their draconian greed and simultaneously angrily crush the NBA players for their impudent stupidity. Monday's last-gasp negotiation, a seven-hour affair in New York, produced too little movement to prevent commissioner David Stern from announcing the cancelation of the first two weeks of the season. The funereal mood muffles the glee the Dallas Mavericks deserve to feel about a first-ever title, and for many, anger seems an appropriate emotion for that, too.
This is the space where I'm supposed to mouth something trite about "billionaires vs. millionaires,'' where I'm supposed to call for the head of Stern (or Billy Hunter or Derek Fisher or any other available head), where I'm supposed to remind the powers-that-be that their inability to make concessions will result in a "screw-you'' mindset on the part of millions of in-the-breach fans who are prepared to happily live without a sport so obviously willing to live without its fans.
"Angry'' doesn't cover it. "Despondent'' is more accurate.
"Screw ‘em''? "Don't let the door hit you on the ass''? "We can live without the NBA''? Well, sure. But I don't feel we should need to live without the NBA.
Listen, I don't confuse my passion for sports or my job with sports with my devotion to my faith and my family. But you know … it probably does rank third on that list.
I love my involvement with the Mavs, involvement as a fan and on a full-time basis for the last dozen years, my involvement as a journalist in charge of DallasBasketball.com. The Mavericks are my occupation and my avocation. Between writing for DallasBasketball.com, FoxSports Southwest and elsewhere and working on-air as a pre- and post-game analyst with Fox, the Mavericks are what I do. Their schedule determines my schedule and my family's schedule. Visit relatives in Houston, Denver and OKC? Yes, we visit relatives in Houston, Denver and OKC based on when the Mavs play in those cities. Birthday parties for the kids? Yes, Tony is looking forward to another chance to bring his buddies to his annual destination – a Mavs game. Date night with Marcia? Yes, the Platinum Club at the AAC is our date night staple. She cares not whether the visiting team is the Lakers or the Bobcats. She just wants her date night.
"Screw ‘em''? I wish I could combine flippancy with anger to craft my reaction to the news of the continuation of the lockout; "pissed and snarky'' sounds kind of fun.
But instead, I'm sad.
Mavs GM Donnie Nelson tells me that whenever there is a ring ceremony, it will feature traditional jewelry for the Dallas Mavericks players – not, he jokes, the "ankle bracelets'' once envisioned by team owner Mark Cuban. But that ceremony will not occur during the scheduled opener at home against the Chicago Bulls. Also erased forever is a visit to San Antonio, a home game against the Thunder, visits to Toronto and New Jersey and home games against Memphis and Golden State, outings that were to take us through November 14.
More negotiations are coming, yes. But maybe more cancellations are coming, too, as each side exited Monday's meeting polishing their intensely-crafted images.
The owners, you see, are martyrs who simply cannot continue to lose money.
The players, you see, are victims who, as their orchestrated tweets noted Monday, "Just Want To Play.''
And both sides conduct a mad race to the podium to demonstrate deep concern for, as Stern put it, "the thousands of people that depend on our industry for their make their livelihood.''
Deep concern for the vendors and the ushers and the scouts and the parking attendants and the salespeople and the waitresses.
Just not deep enough.
The cancellations that guarantee the league will have a shortened campaign for the first time since the 1998-99 season (when a dispute resulted in a 50-game schedule) make this more complicated than any of either sides' public positions – and even more complicated than the notion that the combatants can't figure out how to split four billion bucks. If the owners really believe the NBA business is a money pit, they could sell their franchises at terrific profits. If the players really "just wanted to play,'' they would acquiesce to the virtually immovable force that is the owners side.
There were reasons for optimism over the weekend after Stern suggested the two sides agree to a 50-50 revenue split. But the players wouldn't accept that along with the drastic alterations in the system (a hard cap in some form, Bird Rights changes, a restrictive tax on teams that spend, and shortening contract lengths, as just a few examples). So one step forward has resulted in two steps back … and two weeks of games, lost.
I've said all along that Nov. 15 is a significant day, and here's why: That's when players would normally be due their first paycheck. That makes the two-week cancellation something more than coincidence; what Stern has done is guarantee that his players will go through November without a payday. (The owners' machine is so orderly that on Monday night, just like that, all the teams' websites erased any mention of the now-gone games.) That's how the owners plan to win this financial tug-o-war. How many paydays can the billionaire owners afford to miss? Substantially more than the millionaire players can afford to go without.
And how long will that be?
"I don't know that the season is in jeopardy," union boss Hunter said. "I think it would be foolish for them to kill the season. We're coming off the best season in the history of the NBA, and I'm not so sure in this kind of economy if there is a protracted lockout whether the league will recover."
And if it doesn't?
Yes, "we can live without the NBA.'' Consider the recent weekend sports news cycle alone: The Texas Rangers go up 2-0 in the American League Championship Series on the strength of arguably the greatest game in franchise history. … Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis dies … Oklahoma stays at No. 1 in college football by crushing the Longhorns … Tiger Woods is assaulted with a hot dog on the putting green.
The Dallas Cowboys are returning from a bye week. TCU is moving to the Big 12. Hockey, anyone? There will be leaves to rake, church services to attend, and I just remembered that for about the last six months my copy of "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'' has sat unattended and half-read.
"We have a gulf that separates us," Stern said.
It is their gulf. It is our void. And for me, anger isn't enough to fill it.