60 blocks north of reality

October, 5, 2011
10/05/11
3:33
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
I almost asked the question.

There we were, in the carefully lit conference room of a very nice midtown hotel. Rows of pitchers filled with ice water lined up on a white tablecloth at the back. Take a drink, and there's no place for dirty glasses. Not to worry. Put it anywhere! Somebody will be along.

In the bright lights, with the podiums and the microphones, millionaires including Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher and David Stern took turns speaking of not getting big enough pieces of the pie.

Meanwhile, 60 blocks to the south the collected voices of the disenfranchised were deep into a project of occupying Wall Street. Charles Pierce writes for Esquire:
The protests here are omni-directional. They appear inchoate because their target is so diffuse -- an accelerating sense in the country that there is no pea under any of the shells, that the red Jack is not in the deck, that the wealth of the country is being swindled and gambled and frittered away by so many people in so many ways that to sharpen the focus on one of the long cons is to let a dozen others reach fruition. This is a protest about declining wages and corporate greed, about baroque financial schemes and the unfathomable fine print on the back of your credit-card statement, about a grand critique of mutated capitalism and outrage at the simple tragedy of foreclosure fraud. ...

Except for the very few, economic survival in America is a fragile, perilous journey over an increasingly narrow road. ...

This a movement based on class, which, as an issue, most Americans don't much like to confront, largely because to admit that it is an issue is to admit that a great part of the American self-image is a delusion. We do not all have an equal chance. The game is rigged. The economy has been turned into a casino and the house always wins, and we are not the house any more. Not for a long time. Not by the longest shot.

The very few. Those are the people in this midtown conference room. Whether you're politically left or right, you know what the gap between rich and poor in America has been on steroids for a while.

And the question was, basically, how do people in the highest tax brackets explain the owners' or the players' position to the other brackets, especially those taking to the streets with billionaire fatigue?

(You're really telling me there's a world where 50 percent, or 40 percent, or even two percent of a pool of money that starts with "b" is reprehensible? You know how many people don't have health insurance?)

I almost asked about the Wall Street protests at Tuesday's press conference in no small part because Hunter, Stern and Fisher all grew up without much. Each could, doubtless, give an answer that makes plenty of sense. It would be an easy question, likely.

And there's no shame here, really. The players and owners are doing just exactly what everyone should do: Skillfully making their cases. Leveraging their skills. Passionately but respectfully arguing for fair market value. These people may seem rich by divine right, but really it's because their work generates a ton of money and they work hard.

But it's a perception issue that must be addressed. The NBA plays to an audience of those on a "fragile, perilous journey over an increasingly narrow road." And I'm not sure they how much patience people on that journey have for these particular claims of of unfairness.

When your billions hinge on public perception, tone-deafness can cost you a fortune. With word that the owners and players are far closer than ever, perhaps as little as one percent of basketball-related income, more and more I'm thinking it might be worth simply donating the difference to a good cause, just to show those involved get it.

Henry Abbott | email

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