You haven't heard the fans, or the game itself mentioned much lately, have you? That's because they don't factor into this discussion at all. It was always about people saving themselves: owners asking the players to bail them out of bad business moves, players asking to preserve their cushy status with the highest average salaries among American team sports.
The NBA was counting on you to be a sucker. You'd be a sucker because the league just intentionally damaged its brand and devalued its product by showing its willingness to do without it, secure in the knowledge that fans would still come back once this was over. Or you're a sucker because you bought the lines the NBA fed you for the better part of two years -- that the league needed a hard salary cap and salary rollbacks and other drastic changes to the fundamental structure of the league in order for the business model to be tenable -- only to find out that wasn't actually the case.
That's the realization that hit me Monday as we awaited word on the last-minute labor negotiations. At this point I was actually rooting against a simplistic end to the lockout. Because to end it without anything more drastic than a lower revenue share for the players would mean the past four months were a complete waste of time. You know those studies that attempt to calculate the cost to businesses from employee time spent following the NCAA tournament? I want one of those done for the time spent analyzing issues and negotiating points that won't wind up in the new collective bargaining agreement.
I was stunned the owners moved away from a hard cap. Everything I had been told from their side was that it was a mandatory part of a new labor agreement. That didn't mean they couldn't mimic the effects of a hard cap through other means, but the fact that the NBA didn't try to jam the original version down the players' throats actually made me think a deal was possible in time to save the season.
My mistake. I believed. Lesson No. 1 from this lockout: Don't believe what's being offered to you.
You know what else the NBA is asking us to believe? That a new system will automatically eliminate the case of the overpaid player. Why should we believe that when, for the most part, these are the same owners and general managers who continued to overpay players despite all of the cost-containment mechanisms that were already in place.
The other fallacy is that if the owners get what they want it will promote competitive balance throughout the league. As if that were a priority to them. If it were, the NBA would have trotted out details of its proposed revenue-sharing plan a lot earlier than this month. They might have even had something ready to go in June, when there was still a chance to avert a lockout in the first place.
Further evidence of the NBA's disconnect from the fans is the way the league envies the sweet economic deal the NHL made after the league detonated its 2004-05 season even though the model NBA fans would like to see is what the NFL has. While it's impossible for the NBA to completely duplicate the NFL's balanced revenue (the NFL has strictly national TV contracts instead of the disparate local TV deals in the NBA) there is one option you've never heard mentioned: weighted schedules. Good teams play harder schedules, bad teams play softer schedules based on the previous season's finish. That's a factor that can propel former doormats into the playoffs, and keep the hope train running throughout the league.
But the NBA would never adopt that because now it would mean the bad teams wouldn't get as many (or in some cases, any) chances to sell tickets to see the glamour squads come to town. Once again money trumps everything else. The NBA way is no longer about showcasing the game to the widest possible audience. If that were the case, they'd be playing basketball on national TV on Nov. 1.
Instead, there's this.