By Jason Keidel
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It seems those clever Carmelo signs that you planned to flash from courtside will remain in the attic longer than planned. We argued all spring about the trade the Knicks made to get Mr. Anthony. I was one of the few who disliked the deal, though I’d love to be wrong. But after David Stern just hacked off two weeks worth of games (with more cuts looming) we may not get to see who was right.
Leave it to the NBA to ruin their revival. Last year was the best season the NBA enjoyed since Jordan retired. There was far more parity than parody, and the team deemed least likely to win (Dallas) took home the hardware.
There was a healthy hike in television ratings, jersey sales, and more talk radio chatter about a league left for dead just a few years ago. Now they look like a bunch of pampered pituitary cases ready to kill the game just as it was making a most unlikely comeback. David Stern and Billy Hunter are engaged in a perilous staring contest. They both better blink soon, or the consequences could be calamitous.
(Note: NBPA head Billy Hunter will join WFAN’s Mike Francesa in studio today at 4 p.m. Listen live here.)
Our buddies in Bristol are in full panic. ESPN has more invested in the NBA than any other broadcast entity, and they’re doing their Sunday best to put a smiley face on a hot mess. If David Stern is to be believed, the players and the owners aren’t in the same ballpark, borough, or area code in these negotiations.
With their typical hubris, ESPN ushered Amar’e Stoudemire into the studio to talk about the state of the NBA union, then it morphed into an infomercial with “Stat” pimping his new sneakers, size 16 kicks, commensurate to the collective egos in the room. (Then I had to watch Antonio Pierce sermonize about team chemistry while he knifes his former teammates in the back, but that’s another story.)
None of them get it. As David Stern and Billy Hunter brood beside a limousine, crying poverty from their luxury suites, they are absurdly aloof to the struggle most of America suffers from what feels like a bottomless recession. Forecasters are already saying that holiday shopping will be way down, and now you may not even be able to watch a basketball game on Christmas while you muse over a mound of turkey.
Yet each side – and there is no right side – wants us to feel pity for people who don’t live in the real world because the deity blessed them with bionic limbs. This stretches the already chasmal gap between those who fly around the world in private jets and those of us who live in it. Stern is asking us to back a band of billionaires who buy basketball teams because they don’t know what else to do with their oil or dot-com cash. And Hunter is asking us to side with Stoudemire and his cohorts, who own fleets of Bentleys, marry the hottest women in the world, only to have them turn a private marriage (or divorce) into yet another nauseating season of “Real Housewives of (pick your place)” (What’s the over/under on Kris and Kim’s marriage?)
The latest concession from the players is their willingness to take 53 percent of the pie, down from the current slice of 57 percent. But the numbers are incidental to you and yours, and all of us who don’t make millions to play a game for a living.
Hunter was stern with Stern, warning the commissioner that he won’t get all of his demands unless he’s willing to lock out Hunter’s players for a few seasons. Stern said his constituents, who, like many players, haven’t been on an unemployment line, stuffed in a sweaty subway car, or had to make the choice between dinner and a movie because they can’t afford both, are willing to erase this season and the next just on principle. Or is it principal?
A work stoppage wrecked hockey, canceled a World Series, and spawned a generation of juicers who synthesized the record book. The NFL, while teasing us for a few months, figured out that this ornery, sports-following brood is in no mood for haggling over how to split a billion bucks.
Just a few years ago, Lebron presided over the lowest-rated NBA Finals in history, when his Cavaliers were swept by the Spurs. A canceled season will be the reason they return to the 2007 numbers. It doesn’t take a team of forensics to declare the cause of this death: greed over need.
A few All-Stars have taken to Twitter, pounding out apologies to the fans for the whole thing, as though they have nothing to do with it, as if some random, catastrophic act of God gutted their season. You can picture them now: wrapped in silk robes, sipping Cristal in Rolls-Royces, feigning a fawning tone on their iPhones.
It’s each side’s job to drown us in platitudes, to stand on a transparent prerogative as the aggrieved. Their goal is to confuse us to the point where we point fingers at their foes. It won’t work. It doesn’t take a lawyer to see through the semantic subterfuge. This isn’t about fairness or legacies or loyalties. This is about money. We know they have lots of it and we have very little of it. And it’s perfectly understandable if you boycott these babies while they whine and dine on your dime. There are better sports begging for your entertainment buck. And if the NBA isn’t careful, their ratings and revenue will recede faster than LeBron’s hairline.
We have lived without the NBA, and can do so again. Most of America really likes basketball, but doesn’t love it. Someone needs explain the difference to David Stern and Billy Hunter – the dual faces of this debacle.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
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