- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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"The spirits gathered the kings at the place which is called Armageddon "
Sound familiar? It should, but this here battle -- this epic battle, this "great and crucial conflict" that has become the NBA lockout -- will not take place in the valleys of Megiddo, nor will it appear in the Book of Revelations (16:16) of a revised King James version of the Bible.
This here is taking place in front of our very eyes, in our lifetime. Occupying our lives: Wall Street.
Two weeks of the regular season already canceled. Soon, the Christmas games. Then the All-Star Game. And hopefully, the entire season. The countdown to Armageddon is finally here.
If you think you just read the word "hopefully" -- as in, does this guy really have the audacity to hope that there is not a 2011-12 NBA season? -- you read right. We're now 117 days deep into the League's most recent work stoppage; at some point, there needs to be an understanding that the next 300 days are far more important than the ones gone by.
Because this lockout is no longer about basketball. Any of us who still believe it is are either dense, dim or dumb. Or all three. The owners have shifted the dynamics from power to principle: Their power versus the players' principles.
Concessions, talking points, agree-to-disagreements, creating leverage, calling in mediators by now, they're all meaningless. Meaning if the owners are going to continue to treat this like a game of chess, it is up to the players not to be played -- or looked at -- as pawns.
For the players, this is a "stand for something or fall for anything" moment. That moment when they know now the only way the owners are going to allow them to play basketball again in the NBA is if they submit to an overhaul of a system that "in principle" has nothing to offer them in return.
That moment when, individually, they must decide if it is important to be able to look in a mirror every morning and see a sense of pride and purpose in their refection. A moment that many, many years from now will allow them to say, "At least we were once about something more than just basketball."
Yes, it has come to this. BRI, salary caps and super taxes; 57/43 to 52.5/47.5 to 50/50 take-it-or-leave-it revenue splits. Players calling owners liars; show hosts referring to the commissioner in "plantation overseer" terms; "Carmelo Anthony Rules" being put in place; six-game, four-continent all-star/exhibition World Tour games being scheduled.
It's gone further than the players wished and not the way the owners expected. As Christian Waterman wrote in his Slamonline piece last week, the NBA almost by nature is "intrinsically flawed and unequal." And David Thorpe reminded us in ESPN.com's 5-on-5 last week that, "It's a lockout, and only one side is in control of the lock."
There is something at stake here as important from the players' perspective as the loss of games and checks. Something that goes beyond what many writers and most fans will take into consideration when placing blame for the loss of these games.
It's the understanding that long before Day 1 of this lockout, the players were the ones who had everything to lose. They knew -- were told years ago, in fact -- that it was going to come to this. They knew the owners were going to do everything in their power to rectify a situation they created themselves in the last CBA, and eventually lock the players out because they (the owners) simply can't control themselves and are too haughty to come to the negotiating table in good faith and fairness.
Nothing's changed. Therefore, the players must be the ones who initiate a change.
What this lockout has taught the players is that nothing they've done up to this moment, and nothing they concede or agree to moving forward, is going to change the owners' line of thinking about them. They're still pawns. The names of the people who own the teams might change, but the mentality of ownership won't. It never does.
Unless and until someone takes a stand.
So, Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher: Stand still!
Paul Pierce, Kobe, DWade, CP3 and KG: Stand pat!
Maurice Evans, Etan Thomas, Matt Bonner, etc.: Stand straight! You are being forced to do nothing less.
Budge for nothing. Agree to even less.
If you want to do something in the best interest of the future of the game at this level, continuing to stand strong about what you all believe is fair. If it means not playing in an NBA arena or putting on an NBA uniform until October 2012, so be it.
Sacrifice of self is the eternal path to self-respect.
Force them to do more than blink. Think differently, and make them think differently about you. Force all ownership -- even as they are the people who will pay you -- to look at you and the players who will enter the League after you're gone as more than just property, peons or pieces of clay.
Force them to look at you and treat you like Steve Jobs looked at software. He knew that without software, all the iPhones, iPods and iPads in the world were nothing but expensive pieces of aluminum and stainless steel. Jobs respected those who could create and develop the software to make them useful. NBA players should make the owners do the same.
Which is why losing the season is more important now than playing one is. Even if the players find themselves in the exact same position next year, with the same modifications to the old CBA in front of them, they will have made the point that they are not willing to be treated this way. It's a stand that will have far-reaching ramifications for any such negotiations in the future.
This is not an encouragement to revolt, or a mutiny against fans or the system or the NBA. This is not about them. Nor is this a suggestion of indifference to the people beyond the players who will be without work for the next 12 months if there are no NBA games. Bless them. Unfortunately, though, this comes with the territory in any industry where there is a union and ownership makes the effort to do what's in the best interest of ownership rather than the service it provides. From public school teachers (when children are the collateral damage) to municipal bus drivers (when commuters are hurt), innocent people suffer when contractual disagreements occur.
This is about NBA players doing what regular, everyday workers in their regular, everyday work situations should consider doing when the work environment between employer and employees reaches this level of contempt.
At some point in life and careers, damaging decisions must be made. Thirteen years ago, when the owners claimed players' salaries were out of control and were outpacing revenues (sound familiar?), the players didn't fold, and the owners ultimately reduced the season to 50 games.
Now, here we are back at the drawing board with the same chalk, with the owners claiming the same problems and doing the same things to get what they want: stopping the players from playing and blaming them for the cancellation of games.
The loss of 32 games in 1998-99 apparently didn't send the message strongly enough. This time, the players need to push for the full 82. Call it inflation.
Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The owners aren't insane. They know the players are likely to fold soon and the results will be the same. And 10 years from now, when this CBA is up, the owners will do the exact same thing, claim they are having the exact same self-inflicted problems and understandably expect the exact same results.
What else can pawns do?
Which brings us back to the importance of now, and this beautiful, dark, twisted and necessary beginning of Armageddon.
Because this here is really about a group of pawns finally putting themselves in the position to say "checkmate," even if they might never be in position to win the match.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
39mMichael C. Wright