I sure hope this sad state of an NBA-less autumn comes to an end before winter arrives. I’ve watched a lot more football on TV this fall than ever before, but America’s most popular sport hasn’t filled the void left by the cancellation of the NBA’s entire 114-game preseason schedule and the first month of the regular season. Sports publications can’t even tide us over with a 2011-12 preview because the team rosters won’t be finalized until the lockout ends, IF it ends.
Earlier this week it looked like folks on both sides of the Collective Bargaining Agreement were willing stand their ground and sacrifice the entire season in order to defend their positions. I don’t think the Players Association expected the owners to take a hard line, but Commissioner Stern warned that the deal would worsen if the players refused the league’s latest offer. The Players Association deemed the offer “unacceptable” and appeared far from caving. Instead a number of players threatened to decertify.
Meanwhile we’re losing games, revenue and the invaluable support of our fans. Even if the players and owners reach an agreement this week, getting back on track will not be an easy task. There will be major fallout as a result of cancelling the NBA Summer League, the preseason and November games. You can’t go from a 130-day lockout to business as usual. The owners and players are losing money. Season ticket holders have had to hassle with refunds. Arenas are sitting empty while their surrounding businesses suffer, and jobs have been lost. People are angry.
The longer the stalemate continues and the more games that are cancelled, the harder it’s going to be to convince execs on the back end to re-invest in advertising and fans to come back out and support their teams. After the 1998-99 lockout teams were not greeted back immediately. We missed 32 games, and we couldn’t get them back. Advertisers were upset and reluctant to invest once the shortened 50-game season got underway. The league lost a lot as a result of the last lockout, so they understand what’s at stake.
The lockout is hard on NBA coaches as well, and they have a tough assignment ahead of them. All the coaches have been going in and working to get everything ready so that they’re prepared to spring into action when they get the word. They’ve already got their practices planned out and their team books assembled. But you wind up getting thrown into everything so quickly. As soon as a settlement is reached, teams will return to practice for a couple weeks and then next thing you know they’re playing games. That doesn’t give the players much time for conditioning or learning plays or to gel. As is always is the case, some players are working very hard during the layoff to stay in shape. But less disciplined players will let themselves go, and some of them will probably get hurt as a result. Those injuries will directly impact whether a team wins or loses.
Despite the great divide, no doubt both the owners and players are eager to reach an agreement. Hopefully they will settle the business of basketball soon so we can all get back to enjoying the sport.