The 2010-2011 NBA season was one for the history books. A constant story line too strange for fiction in Miami, a goofy foreigner finally hoisting the championship trophy for his enigmatic, dot-com billionaire owner, the emergence of Derrick Rose as the next savior in Chicago, Kevin Durant's quiet ascension to the top rung of the superstar ladder, and most important of all, record TV ratings and league-wide revenues.
The NBA has been slowly but surely climbing in the sporting consciousness of this country (and the world) over the past handful of seasons and the playoffs which ended a mere six weeks ago represented a true high point. You'd think the league would be highly motivated to capitalize on that momentum, to keep things moving in the right direction, to get their product back to their consumers as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, we know that isn't the case. The league may be in its best shape since Jordan retired, but the owners aren't capitalizing on it. Most of them are losing money. The players aren't arguing that fact with any gusto. They're throwing stones, trying to distract from the issue.
Millionaires vs. billionaires. Leverage. Negotiating from strength. Not negotiating at all. What seems to be almost completely lost from the equation is the ramifications of missing games. The "casual fans" are interested in the league right now, they're watching in record numbers to see if anyone can beat the villainous Miami Heat. They're buying Durant jersey and Derrick Rose shoes. If late October comes and goes without a solution to this labor situation, those casual fans will forget. They'll stop buying tickets, they'll stop watching on TNT. They'll spend their entertainment dollars on baseball and football. They'll stop caring and the league will slide right back down that hill they've spent years slowly climbing. The NBA won't be the third sport, as it is today, it'll be that other sport (along with the NHL), like it was a few years ago.
There's a lot of money at stake in these negotiations, it would behoove both sides to take a step back and realize where that money comes from. They don't have to solve this thing tomorrow to avert disaster, they've got time. Take a look the NFL. The only thing that matters is real games. If they can get this mess behind them in time to start the regular season as scheduled, all will be forgiven. Heck, they'll probably wind up looking like heroes.
Lost games won't kill the league. Even a lost season won't kill it. The NHL survived. The die-hards will come back immediately, then the rest will follow later on and maybe five years down the road the league will get back to the level of popularity it has enjoyed for the past twelve months. It's probably that certainty that's allowing both sides to behave as though they have all the time in the world. I guess we just have to hope when the absolute deadline for losing games approaches the union and the owners will take the fans, and really the good of the game, into account.