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Thursday, June 30, 2011
A sad day for basketball fans

By Brian Kamenetzky

UPDATE (1:15 pm PT): No need to wait until this evening, apparently.

Barring some sort of miracle, tonight at 9:01 PT teams across the league will throw padlocks on their facility doors, locking out the players. (Actual padlocks aren't necessary, but would certainly create a helpful visual.) Over the next few days, weeks, and months, we'll have time-- too much, I fear-- to dissect how the work stoppage and potentially abbreviated 2011-12 season impacts the Lakers.

Today is more about fans, who go from (at least in theory) the most important members of the NBA equation-- payers of bills, supporters of product, makers of stars-- to inconsequential actors sent to the sidelines while labor and management argue over how to split a massive pile of revenue.

Small picture, I'm sympathetic to arguments from each side. Unlike the NFL's magic profit-making machine, there are teams in the NBA losing money. More importantly, the current agreement forces some owners to choose between putting a winning product on the floor and trying to keep their business profitable. That's a raw deal for fans (and ultimately counterproductive for the players). The union, on the other hand, rightly notes some of the financial problems facing owners are founded on their own bad business choices and that playing a little nicer with each other (enhanced revenue sharing) mitigates many of their problems. Moreover, owners aren't looking for a mild rollback, but a massive reduction the percentage of revenue players receive, particularly in the offer's later years. I wouldn't want to give all that up, either.

Big picture, I have no sympathy for either side.

The owners seem to be hurtling past proposals for a system providing fair opportunity for profit to one bent on one guaranteeing it. Big difference. Players shouldn't be asked to give up so much as to completely insulate ownership from risk. Meanwhile, players understandably want to hold on to as much as they can, but in a terrible economy unlikely to recover fully for a while, compassion for their position will be difficult to muster once games are lost. Lop 25 percent off the salary of the league's lowest paid guys, and in a country with a median salary around 50K, they still make about seven times the money of the people watching them play. Compared to a guy like Shannon Brown, who earned a modest-by-NBA-standards $2.15 million this season, it's over 40 times.

By any measurement, NBA players earn a tremendous income, and will continue to do so.

Especially disappointing is how all this comes at a time where the energy around the league, fueled by last season's free agent bonanza and boosted by an incredible Finals, is sky high. While it wasn't exactly a barrel of monkeys for the Lakers, as a league the NBA is coming off a season so good, so fun, asking if it was the best ever is not unreasonable. While nothing truly substantive has been sacrificed-- as much as we all want a resolution now, these things tend not to happen before the absolutely have to, a moment still a few months off-- signs are certainly ominous. For those who love the game, the natural rhythm of the offseason, with everything from player trades to free agency to Summer League, is kaput.

Ideally, that'll be the worst of the damage.

Both sides seem to recognize the consequences if agreement can't be reached before games are lost. Today, at least, both sides seem willing to lose them, anyway. There are so many things to look forward to next season. Hoping there's a season at all shouldn't have to be one, but it is.

At some point later this summer, perhaps sanity rule and the owners and players find a way to meet in the middle. Today, though, is a sad one for basketball fans.