This time last year, LeBron James was one of the most hated players in the NBA, after The Decision, the dancing routine with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, and his now infamous “not one, not two…” comment. Many fans ramped up the hate for the Miami Heat, not wanting them to win in their first year. LeBron further annoyed people by being unwilling to embrace his public image as a villain.
Take that level of hate, multiply it many times, and you have the wrath that will be thrown at the NBA and NBPA if the NBA season is cancelled. The anger is already growing, and it will keep growing until the labor situation is fully resolved, with the prospect of a major financial impact that will fully strike after the lockout ends, similar to baseball fans’ response after the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
Michael Wilbon wrote a brilliant article which gives a great explanation for the differences between the NFL and its lockout, and the current situation in the NBA: the NFL’s fans are far more addicted to their game, and far more numerous; they are also far more forgiving, which wasn’t hurt by the resolution of the NFL lockout before any regular season games were cancelled. What Wilbon doesn’t mention is that the NFL has, in many ways, imbued itself on the day of Sunday; for many fans like myself, Sunday is, at least partially, devoted to watching NFL teams slug it out. The imprint of college football further complements this on Saturdays. The NBA doesn’t have anything that comes close to that, either in terms of impact, or loyalty.
Let us not forget, though, that NFL fans were very angry at the mere prospect of losing games, and that millionaires and billionaires were unable to split a financial pie totaling over $9 billion. Even people who had a preferred side, such as a friend of mine who is pro-union and myself who is not a huge fan of unions in sports, reached a point where we just wanted to see them get a deal done. What happened next was that both sides came clean on what they really wanted, found they were compatible, and hammered out an agreement.
From what we’ve seen, it does not appear as though that is a possibility for the NBA, and they have already lost regular season games, with the month of December and the whole season already in jeopardy. The revenue split will likely end the year before it has begun, and that’s just one major issue, and the major losers are the fans, and the support staffs for the NBA.
ESPN, TNT, and all the other networks that air NBA games can find replacement programming. The players can go to Europe, Asia, and the ends of the Earth to play elsewhere and make some money. All but one NBA owner has other businesses to support him or herself. The fans of the NBA, the die-hard fanatics, get nothing, and those people who support the NBA teams could be out a lot of money, and I know I’m not saying anything not already said, but it’s not fair.
If the NBA season is cancelled, and the NBA and NBPA had any sense of what was right for the fans, they would make all preseason games free to fans, and cut concessions costs for the whole season. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have that sense. They don’t care about the fans right now: the fans are not recipients of the $4.3 billion pie the players and owners are fighting over. The problem with this mentality is that both sides completely forget that the fans are where all those billions of dollars comes from: it comes from the fans attending the games, watching them on television, buying the jerseys, and most importantly, devoting their time and energy to the team.
Perhaps the greatest damage, though, will be with the casual fans, such as myself. I don’t have that incredibly deep appreciation of the NBA and the game of basketball, but I still get swamped with all the negativity of the lockout, and even at this early point, I am approaching the point of honestly not caring; the only point I would really feel anything is when the playoffs begin, at which point I would feel a little down about missing the NBA Finals, but that’s pretty much it. I would feel just as happy watching soccer, hockey, and baseball’s spring training games as watching basketball around that time of year.
I hope for the sake of the game the season isn’t cancelled, but with an outlook this bleak, I hope for those who love the game more than I do that the lockout does not damage the game too much, and that is all we can really ask for at this point.