It's time to prepare for the worst case scenario — the NBA lockout could cause us to miss the entire season in 2011 and 2012. It's still way too early to guess how this will evolve in the next few months, but after what happened in Manhattan on Tuesday, it's harder than ever to hold onto any optimism.
Besides, if we prepare for the absolute worst, at least we won't be disappointed.
The owners want a hard salary cap as part of any new collective bargaining deal, and while the players have already promised to cut their profit shares in a new deal, a hard cap won't come easy. The war over the hard cap makes very little sense for the overall health of the game, but the players association is controlled by middle class players who would get hit hardest by a hard cap.
And let's not forget: The last league to successfully implement a hard cap (the NHL) had to sacrifice a season to do it. NBPA president Billy Hunter is already warning players that they "may have to sit out half the season before we get a deal." Aside from last week's hopeful red herring (HOW U?), we've seen this coming for at least a few months. As soon as I heard David Stern on Bill Simmons' podcast last month, I began to reconcile myself to the idea of a world without the NBA.
Even the way Stern talks has a way of killing your spirits. Listening to the Simmons podcast again reminded me — between his condescending, lecturing tone and his ability to completely obscure the truth, David Stern manages to embody pretty much everything anyone hates about American bureaucracy.
When he was asked about the timetable for getting a deal done, Stern responded with some brain-numbing, hair-splitting rhetoric: "I would say that I remain optimistic that we're going to make a deal, and I think that the urgency is set in a certain way by the rejection of our underlying premise. That is, this is the time to have a reset. This is the time to try to hold for the players most of what they have, and grow our way out of the situation we find ourselves in. The players very strongly disagree and to this point don't even want to discuss it."
Translation: Yes he's optimistic about getting a deal done soon, but only on the condition that the players stop disagreeing with him. Good to know, Dave!
As far as any broader implications are concerned, with roughly half the owners seeking a deal now and the other half ready to miss the season, David Stern, never the guy who'll tip the scales toward a compromise, probably won't be making any deals soon. Now Billy Hunter's preparing players for a months-long battle that could cost us half the season.
But it's not all bad. If we're going to reconcile ourselves to a year without pro basketball, then we can at least take solace in how entertaining it could be. Even without basketball, the NBA still has the most eclectic, eccentric roster of talent the sports world has to offer. A lockout just means they'll have more free time than ever. Instead of dwelling on the grim outlook of the collective bargaining process, let's just concede the season now, and look at what we'll get in its place.
Without further ado, six silver linings to a world without NBA basketball.
NBA Players Will Still Entertain Us
They just won't be playing basketball. Look at the photo above. If basketball's not around to keep everyone busy, our favorite NBA millionaires will be popping up all year long in places you least expect. Can you think of anything more terrifying than DeMarcus Cousins on a Jet Ski? Can you imagine how Ron Artest is planning on keeping busy?
There will be regrettable rap records, photoshoots with pandas, Kobe gone crazy, and with any luck, we'll get at least five separate transmissions from whatever planet Delonte West is on.
None of this replaces basketball, of course. But if you're like me, part of the NBA's appeal is the culture that underpins everything. Losing games, or even an entire season, won't detract from any of that. If anything, the peripheral entertainment will only be magnified.
Do you like the photo of Carmelo Anthony looking grumpy next to a few giggling super models? Well there's a whole lot more where that came from!
The Shawn Kemp And Kenny Anderson Sweepstakes
Who will be the NBA superstar to inspire a story like this?
Boston Celtic Kenny Anderson has found one positive thing about the NBA lockout: It's keeping his estranged wife, Tami Akbar, from getting her hands on more money.
Some of Anderson's friends warned him against marrying her. An aspiring singer, she first gained attention in 1993 as a housemate on MTV's "Real World." On that show, she invited viewers to accompany her to an abortion she had. ... Anderson reps declined comment. The 28-year-old point guard said in October that, although his accountant had built $120,000 into his $3 million annual budget for what Kenny calls "hanging out money," the NBA lockout might force him to sell one of his eight luxury cars. Once Akbar has her day in court, his garage could get even emptier.
And who will be this year's Shawn Kemp, the NBA superstar who gains thirty pounds over the course of the lockout, then spends the following year playing every game on the brink of a heart attack? My money's on Carmelo Anthony here, but don't count out Pau Gasol or Deron Williams.
Now, remember: Never bring up the '99 Cavs in Shawn Kemp's presence.
The NBA Won't Suffer As Much As People Think
The conventional wisdom is that coming off one of the most successful seasons in league history, with the league looking healthier than ever in the post-Jordan era, a lockout could sabotage all that progress. Even I made the mistake of panicking when the lockout became a reality.
Rather than brokering a compromise and riding the wave of popularity toward profits the sport's never seen, the NBA owners are hoping to railroad the same players that made the game so popular. It's shortsighted ... The NBA lockout isn't about the owners' business sense prevailing. It's about greed and financial insecurity obscuring business sense. By locking out the players and refusing to compromise, the NBA owners are actively trying to turn fans against the players, assuming that profits later on will the make the whole experience worthwhile.
Part of the rationale here is that an NBA lockout will make fans hate the players. But the more I've thought about things, the more foolish that seems. This isn't 1999, and while it's fun to guess at who could be the new Shawn Kemp, the players, in general, are a lot smarter this time.
The NBA stumbled after the lockout in '99, but after relying on Michael Jordan to sell their game to the masses, the NBA was left with a league full of young, less-than-polished superstars, still licking their wounds after a PR battle left them looking like money grubbing fools.
In 2011, or 2012, or 2013, or whenever basketball finally comes back, the NBA has LeBron James and Kevin Durant smack in the middle of their prime. The lockout's already made a superstar out of Durant, and frankly, all the people who would resent players for perceived greed already care about the NBA more than they realize — millions of Americans flock to their televisions just to root against James.
As much as I'd like to crucify Stern for jeopardizing the groundwork that's been laid over the past few years, we have to be honest here: Durant is popular because he's perceived as the people's champ. LeBron (and Kobe, to a lesser extent) attracts fans because he's among the most polarizing personalities in sports. The lockout won't change any of that; if anything, it'll underline the dynamics that made the NBA so fascinating this past year.
In the meantime...
College Hoops Is Better Than Ever
Most diehard NBA fans look at college basketball as fool's gold, but this year's crop of talent features four separate teams stocked with NBA talent.
- North Carolina. Featuring Harrison Barnes, who this summer was going toe to toe with Kevin Durant, and had scouts calling him the No. 1 pick in a landslide. Beyond that, the whole roster's stocked with McDonald's All-Americans, with about five different players who could go in the first round over the next few years.
Kentucky. Anthony Davis is the best freshman in the country and a likely top-three pick in 2012, and beyond Davis, Michael (Kidd-)Gilchrist is another freshman who could easily play his way into the draft's top five, and they'll join a team that already has Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb coming back. Throw in two other freshman All-Americans, and like UNC, there are six first round draft picks playing in Lexington. Possibly related: There will be NBA players practicing with them all season. LeBron James stopped by on Tuesday.
- Ohio State. The perfect foil to the all-star teams in Chapel Hill and Lexington, the Buckeyes will revolve around Jared Sullinger and a cast of role quintessential college role players that compliment his skills down low. From an NBA perspective, Ohio State's not as interesting as UNC or UK; but from a competitive perspective, the Buckeyes will be a title threat all year long.
- UConn. Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Alex Oriakhi would've been enough to keep them competitive and somewhere near the top 10, but freshman point guard Ryan Boatright will help replace Kemba Walker at point guard, and Andre Drummond is probably the best NBA big man prospect since .
It's not the NBA, but if there were one year where college basketball deserved a little extra attention, it's this upcoming season. NBA fans who take a chance on college hoops won't be disappointed. And for all the NBA fans who can't bring themselves to watch college hoops?
Basketball's Endless Summer
The games are meaningless, but as long as the lockout lasts, players like Kevin Durant will be touring the country and playing with other NBA stars wherever there's an open gym. This is the essential difference between an NBA lockout and work stoppages in any other sport.
With other sports, the stars and the game effectively disappears for a year. With the NBA, the games go on, we just have to look harder to find them. We've already seen the DC vs. LA showdown in Washington D.C., the LeBron-Durant shootout in Baltimore, and within the next month, games are planned in Philadelphia, D.C., Indianapolis, and New York City.
Not everyone can make it to these games, obviously, but as the word spreads and more players get interested — especially as the lockout drags on — there's nothing stopping the streetball phenomenon from going national. Maybe it's not quite as polished as an NBA experience, but think of basketball like music.
The NBA's a studio album with big budgets and corporate America calling the shots. What's emerged this summer, and what'll continue throughout the lockout, is more b-side basketball, where guys like Kevin Durant and LeBron James just play to play, because that's what they love to do. And watching this happen as fans is about as awesome and authentic as basketball gets. And if that's not enough of a silver lining...
On the same day we found the NBA Lockout could very well cost us the season, we found out that J.R. Smith will be spending an entire season in China. Sorry, but I don't believe in coincidences.
It's the perfect microcosm for what'll happen over the next nine months. We may not have NBA basketball, but dammit, what we have instead will be so spectacularly surreal, we'll remember it forever.
As Smith tweeted on Wednesday, "How many chance have you had to do what you love an ppl in another country can appreciate it..." And how many times as basketball fans will we have a chance to see the world of basketball uprooted from NBA stadiums, scattered around America with star-studded pickup games from coast to coast, and dispersed throughout Europe and Asia with guys like Smith immersing themselves in a completely different world? Missing this year won't kill the league. The stars won't stop and neither will the game. It'll just get really, really, wonderfully weird.
Speaking of which, how do you say "Thug Life" in Mandarin?