The looming showdown between the NBA owners and the players will play out mainly in fancy hotel conference rooms in midtown Manhattan.
But no small part of how it will be won will be in the hearts and minds of NBA fans.
This is where the players have, in the past, lost the public, who hold a lot of sway in just about everything in life.
Players have, here and there, made comments that seem to indicate they are too rich to have any sense of what real life is like. By forgetting how many Bentleys they own, or talking about the perils of feeding a family on an eight-figure deal ... the players galvanize the world into thinking they ought to just be happy with what they have. The harder they bargain, the worse they look.
The owners, on the other hand, are generally vastly richer. But they stay out of view, don't make such comments, and nobody seems to care if they bargain for a bigger piece of the pie.
If I ran the players association, I'd make it a mission to demonstrate, through the media and other ways, that players live in the real financial world. They don't have to lie and say they're all poor or anything. But many of them are very cost conscious, by necessity. Making, say, $400,000 by the time you're 22 is great, but less great if your total life earning are going to be more like $500,000.
For years the model has been for players never to admit the slightest financial pain, even though many of them experience it. I think it'd be smart for that to change now.
If players are packing sandwiches to save the cost of a restaurant lunch, that's news fans should hear. If a player buys a used car instead of a new one, likewise. Or maybe they have a clever way of staying on budget, for instance with automatic paycheck deductions. Maybe they know tips we should all be using.
I even think it'd be entirely true, and good tactics, to shine a spotlight on players who are aware of what everybody else is going through. For instance, I just ran across this passage from Alonzo Mourning's book "Resilience," in which he talks about how lucky he felt even in the wake of his dreadful diagnosis of a potentially fatal kidney disease:
I did not want anybody to feel sorry for me because I always knew there was somebody out there who had it a whole lot worse than I did. Someone was sicker; someone had fewer options. I had been able to get the best specialist in the country to look at my case. Not only did I have the finances to get the best health care in the world, I had an NBA health care plan that paid for all of it.
The cost really hit home when I went to pick up a prescription of cyclosporine from Walgreens and I asked the pharmacist how much the prescription would cost without health insurance.
"Like a thousand dollars," she said.
I couldn't believe it. A thousand dollars? All I could think about was all the people who are working nine to five and don't have the medical insurance I did to get this stuff. The ones working two jobs and their kid is sick and he needs this medicine. I actually had the money to afford it without insurance, yet the NBA paid for it anyway. That's the cruel irony of health care. ... That day at Walgreens was like, Boom. That just hit me hard.