NBA: Nothing But Apathy
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BOSTON (CBS) – This has been a busy week.
First, Hank Williams, Jr. sunk his career at a speed even Charlie Sheen would marvel at.
After that, Red Sox, Red Sox, Red Sox…and they’re not even playing! Did you hear David Ortiz slept with Jason Varitek’s fiancé, and then they adopted Dustin Pedroia? Then the pitching staff signed on to do a summer season of The Biggest Loser?
No?? Well, I guess the odds are those things didn’t happen. But with all the nonsense coming out of that clubhouse lately, would it be that shocking? Let’s just save the Theo-to-the-Cubs drama and other team Jerry Springer-like theatrics for another day.
Getting lost in the shuffle, and really to no surprise, was that the NBA canceled its first two weeks of the season. To most people, it’s “Lockout Watch: Day Who Cares.”
As a life-long fan of the league this really irritates me.
When the news came down earlier in the week the reaction was along the lines of “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” This time, though, it was – if billionaires and millionaires are fighting, all crying poverty, could most people care less? The answer is no. But, why?
I posed this question on Twitter, clamoring for reasons for the apathy regarding the lockout and got a number of varied replies. Some people felt the season’s too long anyhow, or that a short campaign would help a certain tired-legged, injury-prone group at the TD Garden. Some questioned how hard the players really work during the regular season, as if every team had a dozen Rasheed Wallace clones. An extreme hatred for David Stern came up.
I read complaints over lies to the public and false promises about trying to wrap up the lockout, when there seems to be a clear and uncomfortable contentment with the current situation. There were, of course, notes about selfish greed and how out of touch with reality the rich have become as the average Joe and Jane struggle to find their economic way.
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One person suggested basketball is the softest sport there is, and therefore this season should be canceled in its entirety, plus next year just for good measure. Another person blamed Michael Jordan’s Hitler-looking mustache. I had no idea Hank Williams had my Twitter handle.
I felt miserable, hopeless even. I was also ready to give up on the sport, then knock down the basketball hoop in my driveway, chalk up the spray-painted free-throw line and do my best Bobby Knight impression by kicking away a ball as far I possibly could.
As a much more than casual Celtics fan lucky enough to watch the team return to its glory with the help of a number of aging superstars, basketball only a few years ago re-infused the city’s love of anything Irish as the Green hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time since 1986. Even the Dropkick Murphy’s got some run from it. Suddenly, though, another finals appearance and multiple postseasons later, and – even in Boston – this may be about the least talked about lockout of all-time, and I remember the NHL shutting down in 2004-05. Now that the Bruins are defending champions, do you? Were you even a hockey fan back then? I’m getting off topic.
When the NFL was on hiatus and threatening the cancellation of an entire season this summer, cries of, “no, please, don’t” were stronger than if Al Pacino had signed on for a fourth Godfather movie. Sure, the NBA couldn’t compare in popularity to the NFL, but why must the disparity be so great?
Former coach and lovable announcer Jeff Van Gundy was on KILT’s “Vandermeer and Lopez” in Houston recently and he was asked about the NBA lockout.
“You know what I was thinking about today, and even yesterday, is how very few people care about the NBA lockout,” said JVG. “You just don’t hear people talk. If it wasn’t on sports talk or ESPN…would anybody even know? You have to be careful if you’re both ownership and players – that you realize with the economy and so many other options with your disposable income – don’t think it will always stay like it has. It can go the other way. This is not football. Football has a stranglehold on America right now, NFL football, and rightfully so. It’s 16 games. If you’re a season-ticket holder it’s eight games, or 10 games with the preseason games, and it’s on the weekend.”
Let’s build on that with some facts: 1) People love short seasons where every game really matters. 2) People respect a team game, where more than one individual’s efforts can decide the outcome. 3) Not even Will Ferrell could make basketball a success in Flint, Michigan.
In short, bad news for professional basketball. What’s worse is that commissioner Stern has said the owners and players remain “very, very far apart” on basically all issues, including a split of revenue, various rules concerning player contracts and, of course, the luxury tax.
My buddy Sully emailed me the other day and said he was basically waiting for Stern to take the player’s union and pee on it the way manager Lou Brown took a wiz on Roger Dorn’s contract in Major League. By the end, in his mind, the players will wait as long as they can and then sign anything, no matter how lopsided or owner-favoring a collective bargaining agreement is necessary in order to get paid in the same way Dorn was getting black and blue from taking grounders off the body.
Going in-depth on these issues is out of my pay-grade and not my problem. My boggle is still with the fact that this whole thing is so damn irrelevant to people, at least in the cities that host other professional sports. Sorry, Sacramento. And, yes, I know you’re not the only one.
Is there any chance I’m wrong about this? Does total ambivalence to this lockout not exist? I asked Celtics radio play-by-play man Sean Grande, and he said this:
“I don’t think fans are apathetic…yet. That’s the key. The NBA isn’t center-stage in October with the NFL, World Series, College Football and the NHL starting up. So, of course, you’re not panicking about your dessert not being there while you’re still eating your appetizer. But apathy, which is the ultimate enemy, will come if someone doesn’t smash the two sides’ heads together soon. To lose a season of your sport in the year 2012, with attention spans and entertainment options being what they are, would be catastrophic.”
I hope Grande’s right about the first part, but he’s unquestionably correct about the last. There’s just no excuse. The NBA needs to come back this year.
Look, people love basketball even if they don’t love the NBA. The NFL may be the most popular and powerful league here in the states, but I’d be willing to bet more kids worldwide play basketball than football. And, no, I cannot back that up with stats. I also cannot support Michael Keaton’s case for a lifetime achievement award, but there are still some theories I’ll just stand behind no matter what.
Unfortunately, as the lockout drags on, players are barely talking, unless it’s about their side-jobs or part-time internships, some are getting frustrated and signing to play overseas in the event of a cancelled season and I’ve seen more charity games than when MTV aired the Rock ‘N’ Jock contests with Dan Cortese, Bill Bellamy and Dean Cain.
I don’t care about any of that. I just want the NBA back. I love the NBA. I used to have John Tesh’s “Roundball Rock” as a ringtone on my phone. You may remember it as the “NBA on NBC” theme song. If I had an old NBA Jam arcade machine, it would be my most prized possession and I’d keep it in my bedroom. I’ve seen Shaq’s movies and I own Like Mike on DVD, and that’s a bad movie about a fictional NBA team.
I realize that the NBA will never be a team game in the way that people love March Madness in college. I know there will never be a Hoosiers made about an NBA franchise, no matter how much Disney may want to try. And, unfortunately, I know the NBA will never be what it once was before the salaries got so out of control.
Still, other leagues have figured out this mess and now it’s the NBA’s turn.
I want to see one last run from the aging C’s. I want to watch LeBron’s teams continue to choke in the clutch. I also want to hear him admit to making a mistake…about anything….even just for bumping into someone on the street. I demand to see Blake Griffin dunk over a Hummer, and not just the hood. I’d love to see the Knicks find a way to struggle, even with so much talent. I’m anxious for MJ’s next comeback. I need to know how Mark Jackson will do as a coach. I’ll lose sleep not watching Charles Barkley get fatter before my eyes. I want to know how many games Minnesota can lose. And, I’m immensely curious what Danny Ainge will do next.
In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to settle for the unfortunate present day reality, which led to a sad realization this morning when my friend Craig asked me if I wanted to play fantasy hoops this year.
I sighed and said, “Aren’t we already?”
Adam Kaufman, a native of Massachusetts, joined the Sports Hub as an on-air personality in June 2011. He has worked as a television and radio anchor and broadcaster for various outlets since 2004, and his written views on sports and entertainment have appeared on NESN.com and in the New England Hockey Journal. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamMKaufman.