The NBA Lockout In Retrospect

Now that the NBA Lockout's over and pro basketball is coming back on Christmas Day, let's take a look back at what the last six months meant--and what they didn't.

Before we get to the NBA Lockout, a word about moving... As most everyone knows, moving out of an apartment is almost always a completely miserable process. It's sweaty, messy, and full of waning patience almost as soon it starts. It's always kinda hilarious afterward, but not in the moment.

What looked like a perfectly nice place to live turns into a dusty war zone the second you start moving everything around, and that's before you try to get it all out the door, where you twist and turn heavy furniture to try and finesse it through narrow doorways. Then if/when that doesn't work, you just gotta force it, possibly breaking things along the way. And then when you're finally successful once, there's still the bed, the dresser, coffee table, etc.

It helps if you're doing it with friends, but that doesn't mean you won't quietly hate each other while you try to figure it out how to get the 12-foot couch down narrow stairs and through a six-foot door.

You can prepare for it mentally or otherwise, but once you get down to the actual logistics, it's gonna suck. And obviously we're talking about collective bargaining here. The back-and-forth between blunt force and finesse, cooperation and loathing, frustration and desperation... That's exactly what we saw over the past six months of the NBA Lockout. But now it's over.

So as I moved out of my apartment over the past few days, I kept reminding myself two things. First: This will all be over in by Monday night. Plus: There's actually going to be pro basketball this year. The second one hadn't totally sunk in even by Monday, so every time I'd remember the NBA Lockout was really over, it'd cheer me up all over again and I'd think, "HOW U?!?" 

Yeah ... Roger Mason's tweet back in September was the first and only time I had real hope that there'd be an NBA season this year. Even with all the incentives for both sides to strike a deal and get back to making money, the owners just seemed too incapable of compromise, and the players (rightfully) weren't going to lay down and forsake generations of progress. Then when Roger Mason accidentally sent a direct message public, it looked like we were all wrong.

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Sure, he backpedaled instantly...

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...But still. This was the first piece of (accidental) (maybe irrelevant) inside info that gave any indication the lockout might not be as brutal and miserable as we all expected. Of course, talks fell apart within 48 hours of all this, and soon enough we were all back at square one.

Mason's tweet took on a life of its own among bored bloggers and NBA writers--first as semi-legitimate news and then as an ongoing testament to the absurdity of lockout life--because clinging to nonsense helped us all stay sane. And yes, this probably means that future generations will look back at the NBA Lockout and think, "God, did these people have nothing better to do?"

The obvious answer is no, not really.

But if anyone from the future wants to remember the NBA Lockout for more than just Roger Mason's tweets, then it'll go down as the time when a billion dollar enterprise teetered on the edge of a cliff, looked down, and then decided that jumping was a bad idea for everyone.

The owners didn't want to risk walking into a court room and enduring a discovery process that could have wreaked havoc on finances that were never as bad as the NBA claimed. The players didn't want to go to court and risk missing an entire season (or more) of salary and maybe having nothing to show for it at the end. Once both sides were staring down that barrel, compromise became the only option that made sense. The only thing more miserable than collective bargaining is sitting in court for 12-18 months.

As emotional and irrational as things got, the end result was about as mundane and rational as business gets. In hindsight, none of this should be that surprising.

  • Powerful businessmen acted like powerful businessmen--using the lockout process to squeeze profits and power from a union they believed was getting too rich and powerful.
  • Proud competitors acted like proud competitors--refusing to roll over in a transparent power play, ultimately opting for a legal option that was so risky for everyone, it pushed them all toward a deal.  
  • David Stern acted like David Stern--the commissioner who's always seemed kind of like a dictator, but always manages just enough benevolence to avert a coup.

It was a microcosm of greed's ability to obscure sanity, and then it wasn't. It was a referendum on just how powerful newly-empowered superstars have become, and then it wasn't. It was a complete middle finger to fans, reason, and fans' ability to reason. And then it wasn't.

It was miserable and apparently neverending, and then it ended and now basketball's starting.

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We really were close to something like armageddon; maybe a tipping point in labor relations in pro sports, or maybe just a year or two sacrificed for nothing, killing basketball's good will along the way. We'll never know how it would've ended because THANK GOD it ended.

There was brute force and finesse, there was latent and blatant loathing, there was misery on all sides, and in the end it turns out that this was all part of the process. As outsiders, then, if there''s any lesson we can take from the lockout it's that not everything has a lesson in it.

You could say that about a significant chunk of life, actually. Life's a series of opening and closing doors, but between them is an empty hallway where we sorta just shuffle along. Going to work, running errands, paying bills, moving out of apartments, filling out applications, sitting in traffic, doing laundry, folding laundry, buying groceries, cleaning the kitchen... It's all just part of life, tedious and boring, with all the color of an empty hallway painted eggshell. 

Next to that you have the NBA, an ensemble full of characters that can make you laugh out loud (Ron Artest, Zach Randolph, Stan Van Gundy), spit up your drink (Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul), say mean, horrible things about people you've never met (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett), or keep you stuck on YouTube for hours, reliving the past (Magic Johnson, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter). You don't have to love it all the time or watch all the games, but it's always there, and all the life bleeds onto a canvas that's a more colorful distraction than just about anything else sports has to offer. But the lockout was the NBA's empty hallway the past six months.

There were two doors at the end, and ultimately the players and owners chose the one that brought basketball back much earlier than anyone expected. Maybe it shouldn't be that surprising in hindsight, and it's definitely not some sweeping miracle because it's all just a game and none of this is going to cure cancer. But man.... As the rest of us shuffle through various hallways of our own, it's pretty great knowing pro basketball will be there again, entertaining us along the way.

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