Saturday, November 26, 2011

Where Will They Put America's Stupid Ice Shows?

Peace came to the NBA owners and players last night, more or less, and I think I speak for all America when I say, "Oh, really? That's nice."

There have been few big sports sports stories I and millions of others have ignored more thoroughly and efficiently than the NBA lockout, and it's pleasant to see our good judgment rewarded. Neither side in the dispute had the slightest intention of blowing up their season, but at the same time had to allow their dead-enders (every labor fight has 'em on both sides) to vent for awhile before serious business could be conducted.

Without seeing one detail of the tentative agreement reached between the league's owners and the player's union, I make the following confident assertion. It won't work, if we define "work" as creating a structure that'll allow the 15 or so hopeless case franchises to escape the basic laws of economics and the nature of the sport they're selling. It's a star-driven enterprise, and those are never normal businesses.

No matter how much or how little they're paid, no system short of indentured servitude is going to lessen the power of star players. The more rigid the salary structure, the more those stars will seek non-financial compensation a/k/a winning and living in nice places. In short, the Sacramento Kings will still suck and lose money hand over fist and there will be more Miami Heats were the players themselves are de facto general managers.

But enough of sordid commerce. Let's move on to the dire effects of sordid commerce on the jolly spectator sport it's selling. The one fact I did see about the new agreement is that the NBA will have a 66-game season beginning on Christmas Day.

Sixty-six times two is 132. Add 132 calendar days to December 25, 2011 and we get May 4, 2012. I don't know how much more than that the NBA can stretch its regular season calendar. The numbers in the preceding sentences of this paragraph already place Game Seven of the Finals somewhere very close to Independence Day. So essentially, we are looking at a season where NBA teams will play every other day. Unless the National Hockey League graciously steps aside and cancels its season, we are looking at a season with many, many back-to-back games for all teams, and likely a few back-to-back-to-backers.

That ought to put at least two Celtics on the injured list by Valentine's Day. Should we get up a pool on who'll they'll be? Dibs on KG!

The biological law of self-preservation insures that players will cope with the grind of the regular season the way they always have -- on-court loafing. As individuals and as teams, NBA players will take more nights off than ever before, and they can't really be blamed for it. Look for a great many games to be determined in the first quarter, especially games where the road team trails by over five points after 12 minutes. "Not our night" will become the unofficial NBA motto.

It takes a real lack of the biological imperative for self-preservation for a business to conduct a prolonged work stoppage for next to no reason and then present its product to consumers in a way designed to reinforce every single negative stereotype those consumers have about your product. "They don't care" has been said about the NBA regular season since I was a boy. It's a damn lie almost all the time. Now, it will be damn lie only some of the time. Sure makes me want to spend $150 or so on a ticket. Do I believe the Toronto Raptors woke up full of vim and vigor this morning? Do I feel lucky?

The NBA is operating under the delusion that because it operates an effective monopoly on pro basketball, it's a real monopoly, and can get away with customer abuse like this. But fans have options, more than ever before in terms of television viewing. Between the college bowl games, NFL playoffs, the NCAA basketball tournament, baseball starting and the NHL playoffs, there's not going to be much time in the NBA season when it's not up against high-stakes, large audience events in the battle for fan attention. 29-hour a day propaganda from ESPN can only do so much.

Some baseball franchises (Blue Jays, Dodgers) have never recovered from the damage of the 1994 strike. Some hockey franchises found their lost season a permanent blight on their finances. I wonder which NBA owners feel lucky this morning. I know some of them will be wrong.


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